the loveliest lies of all
you trip and
you almost let something unsavory
come out of your mouth, but close it instead.
you steady your pace, and your partner laughs,
and readjusts the grasp on your waist; after a few
beats, you find the rhythm of the waltz again.
the pianist accents the note with a flourish, with the
violinist stretching out the melody. you turn
to glance at their faces but the dance continues
and you catch only a blur. the small cabin is cozily
warm but filled with partners. the tap of shoes against
the wooden floorboards is hypnotizing, but your partner
taps you gently on the shoulder, and you look
you tilt your head in question. your partner
laughs. don't tilt your head at me, he winks.
something about that makes the back of your neck
shudder, but you ignore it. whats wrong? you wanna
that's the wrong question, isn't it? that thought
disappears as quickly as it came, so you
instead say, what do you need?
your partner blinks,
and something flashes behind his eyes.
you aren't sure when you stopped moving, or when
the music stopped, but the massive ballroom is
empty and cold, and you can see your reflection
in the marble flooring.
you stop. you glance up at your partner,
then look down at the ground again.
there is only one figure in the reflection.
automatically you flinch out of your
partner's fingers, but his face remains
blank, mouth neutral. where is your reflection,
you say, not quite a question. and then:
we weren't here before- where did the
a beat passes, and he steps back, drops
his eyes. you track his movements,
and watch him walk away, walk to gaze out
the arched ceiling reaching up to the ceiling.
you wait for a moment, then join him.
the sky is too gorgeous, an unnatural shade
of lovely black ice blue. you look away
after a second- you have to. at long last,
your partner(?) looks down from the window,
though the light still illuminates his figure.
so. he smiles finally. you figured it out, right?
you think for a moment.
the cabin. the ballroom.
the violinist. the lone reflection.
something is wrong. you manage.
that's not incorrect. he jerks his head. and then:
well. you think you'd have noticed that sort of
thing. still, you suppose it makes sense.
okay. you decide. okay, then. you're a figure
of my imagination?
oh, you wound me, he smirks. little sister.
a broken noise comes out of your throat before
you think, and you do not know why.
'i'd remember my older brother,' you want to say,
but instead you swallow, and try to think.
you realize, watching him, he looks at you
with a sort of fondness,
the sort of fondness that comes from
someone who hasn't
seen you in a while.
you don't realize you're hyperventilating until
your brother grabs your fingers in his, going over the
breathing exercises he taught you until your heart
stops feeling like it will collapse into itself.
the ballroom has gotten so cold you can see your
breath dispersing into small clouds. but,
you're dead. you whisper.
always the smarter of us two, he agrees.
you sit there for awhile, focusing on
steadying your heartbeat. its so obvious
once it is said in words. finally, you look up.
well, why am i dreaming of my dead brother, then?
he looks mildly amused at that. i dunno. do you miss me?
'all the time', you want to answer. but you look around instead,
expecting the ballroom to change. why now? i've never
dreamt about you before. at least, not in years.
he bows his head. you know the answer to that one.
you don't reply, choosing instead to turn and watch
shooting stars flicker across the window.
you watch the stars with him for what feels like
eternity. it's not, but it's long enough to make up
for long lost time. you don't say anything at first, he doesn't
either- you're dreaming, what's the point? but at
some point, he turns to you, with an unreadable expression
on his face. he speaks: so, little sister?
you swallow, and lick dry lips. this isn't real.
a nod. and?
your eyes are unfocused when you turn to him.
i wish it were. and: i want to stay.
but you can't. he says. he waits for an echo.
when you don't reply, he frowns.
but you can't, he says more forcefully. you can't, right?
you shake your head, but he goes on: we're beautiful
little things built to live in the fabrics of reality, not the
deceitful satins of dreams.
always a poet, you think. you were never so good
with words and you end up muttering something
stupid like: it's just hard.
but he just smiles and shrugs: well, that's the
glory of it, is it not?
sometimes it's not glorious. you exhale.
usually it's not, actually. he corrects. i'm dead,
yeah, i do. you snort. not very glorious of you, actually.
maybe glory isn't the best word for it, then. he taps
his chin absently. have you got a better idea?
i guess not. you say. i'll think on it though.
when you get back? he asks and
a beat. when i get back.
he bows his head. thank you.
you stand there for a second longer, and he
takes that as a signal to leave. but as he
turns away, you grab his hand. will i see you again?
he raises his eyebrow. i'm literally in your head.
you're not sure if that's a yes. then i can conjure you whenever?
he slowly releases his hand. i'm not real, little sister.
but: why not?
he smiles again. it's a bit sad. it's not healthy to
cling to echoes of dead brothers, don't you think?
you watch your lone reflection in the marble. i don't
care if it's not real. i want you, even if this you
is a lie. it's a beautiful lie.
he considers this. then, this isn't where you find me.
then where? you demand.
he takes his time answering. in sunrises and art
museums. classic poetry and fireworks. the smell
of citrus and the taste of sourdough. in the glory of living.
in things i loved.
your voice is barely above a whisper: but you're
not there to enjoy those things with me.
he shrugs. not in the way you want me to be. and yet
i'm inexplicably there, aren't i?
you inhale. exhale. in the glory of living.
in the glory of living. he agrees.
you watch the stars for a bit more before
you have to leave. the goodbye isn't with
a kiss or a cry but with a
you wake up sometime in
the blissful crevices of the morning,
restless. getting up from your bed, you
walk through the celebratory decor your family
hung about the house. eventually,
you make your way to his room, cracking open his
door and slipping in. his neatly made bed
has a fine layer of dust over it, but you settle in it
you do not feel eighteen and
you do not feel older than him and
older than he will ever be.
the thoughts leave an empty ache
between your shoulders.
you don't feel glorious. and yet,
when you wake up the next day,
you ask for sourdough and fireworks
as a birthday gift.)