I should have stripped sheets and scoured dark corners for you, but then I would find you. If you have to leave a trail can't you show yourself? I need a blatant sign. I abandon our room, but you follow—in the folds of my clothes, across the small of my back, bristling through the hairs of a low inner thigh, then the other. So follow. Taste me, then, as someone new.
Two teenagers frequent the park nearby. I passed them often during night walks, when I thought it could clear my head. At first, they would spray me with Steel Reserve and cackle. Now, I find, they can share.
"What ails you, straight lace?" the boy asks.
I pat myself down, muttering, "Where are you?"
"Who? Me?" the boy asks.
"No, not you you," the girl tells him. She strikes me as very literary.
After dusk, we hide from the rangers in the tent of a drooping beech. We are all so silent, but even in still silence, I barely feel you, multiplied and crawling. You move and move and yet I can't feel you taking.
When the coast is clear, we remain in the shelter of the beech. They begin to study me. I've been told, and I've told others, that teenagers are blinkered by self-absorption, so why do they keep watching me?
The boy feels he has me figured. "Love's a bitch, kid," this child says.
The girl rolls her eyes. It is clear she hates a cliché, and I agree that he is still shy some insight.
"Love is a," I begin, but my tongue lies flat and waiting. I scratch absently at the air until one of them places a beer in my hand.
Their names are Joan and Magnus. Before you fled into the folds of me, you might have liked them. But probably not. Is it easier for you, hidden along my surface? I wish I'd thought of it first. I would dissolve along my own skin, if I had to, just to become tolerable and no one.
"So who are you, anyway?" Magnus asks.
"I am drunk in the park," I explain.
He finds this perhaps not deep, but satisfying.
Joan says, "We're not bums, but you're buying the next pack.
They ask no more questions. They don't care where I came from, but they slow their steps and look back when I lag behind.
The streets are busy tonight with the rush of students dumping their belongings onto the street before they flee to their parents' homes. They are wild with the performance of their stress. Joan and Magnus linger over boxes of FREE plastic dishware and loose board game pieces. Magnus tries on a purple cap. Joan fingers the fringe of a grubby rug, but when I sink into a loveseat, she says, "Don't sit there. It might have bugs."
I wonder if you'll disburse here. It's a dumb trick, but you should know there are better corners than mine to haunt.
"I bet we could lift him," Magnus says.
"Bet we can't," Joan says.
I don't think they should bother, but they hunch, lift, carry. They can. They aim only for the other end of the street, but when Magnus's grip slips, they set me in the street for a rest. I offer them a seat. Joan prods the back cushion as if it might burst infectious spores. Magnus collapses dramatically over an arm.
"It's a nice couch," Joan says. "Wonder what it's seen."
"Where's the stains, I wonder," Magnus says, his face buried in the dark fabric. I want to shake out its secrets like loose change.
A car backs out of a nearby drive. It eases up to us. The driver, a buff boy in nighttime sunglasses, beats on his horn. Joan, incensed, sprawls over the edge of the couch herself. She and Magnus smirk at the driver, whose howling commands are drowned out by his own horn. They are beginning to have some fun, but I have to rise. I stand with two fisted birds flying high, because I feel so angry and so feeble.
Then Magnus is at my side. Joan is at my side. My own dumb howling is silenced as soon as I notice it. Magnus takes my hand. Joan takes my hand. We lower linked arms and sway silently until the enraged driver is forced to back out of the neighborhood. He never lets up on the horn, but it all dissipates eventually.
What will become of that loveseat? Will it be stripped or dumped or salvaged to let loose a former life in a new, once sterile space? We won't know. We abandon it as soon as the driver disappears. I fall in the deepest love with these two as we crawl about the night, daring anyone to ask us why or where. No one asks.
It is late, and we are in a 23-hour diner. We saw at burnt pancakes and Joan is telling us, "My Ma brought in bed bugs with a couch like that."
Magnus nods, like he knows the story or has lived it.
"We ditched the couch, but the bugs followed us through three apartments."
"Did you lose them?"
"Bugs, then the apartment. Ma's man told her to burn everything we owned. Only way, he said. He was nuts. But she did it." She flips her pancake. It looks worse on the bottom side.
How kind of them to carry me along and make me new with them. We are all so young and sure that we are still becoming.
Can you taste it now? I am not what you want or soon I won't be.
They are not like you, which is to say, I lose them so easily. They fall back into the night after I disappear into the bathroom. I spend untold time before the mirror, shirt stripped so I can search for you in every seam.
Chris Poole is from Harrison, Tennessee. He received an MFA in fiction from Emerson College, and he teaches in the Boston area. His stories have appeared in The Massachusetts Review, The Gettysburg Review, Apt and elsewhere.