I noticed her right away—you’d have to be dead not to.
Branwenn was a barely contained meteor, electric, neon, buzzing and sparking under all that funerary frippery she was buried in. All black in blazing colours. A raven raining rainbows. She wouldn’t have noticed me at all if I’d been wearing another T-shirt, but she did notice me. I want that, she said simply, wagging a few dozen rings at my cleavage. The word “damaged” was embroidered across my chest in tiny yellow flowers. Her eyes were dark holes and I fell into them on my way to the bar.
What could I do?
I asked the bartender to pour me twice as much and offered her a straw.
Before the glass was empty, we were kissing and her rings were skimming my breasts and nape and the small of my back under my jeans. I wanted it to be enough, but I went home with head pounding, wanting more.
She wasn’t hard to get and she wasn’t easy: it’s just that she was almost not there, even in the beginning when we couldn’t keep our hands off of each other. I could never quite reach her or find my way inside. She told me about it before she ever stayed over. I’ve never really loved anybody, she said, not really.
I didn’t believe her.
And maybe she wouldn’t have told me about Crow at all if I hadn’t found the small urn in her sock drawer when I meant to stow away a stack of freshly laundered thongs. I didn’t know what it was, and it seemed out of place so I moved it. It could have been a stash box for pot or to hold some sort of memento from a past flame. I didn’t open it and did not know, but when Branwenn came back and saw it sitting on the table with a stack of library books destined for return, I couldn’t read what I saw on her face. Her hand reached to snatch the box even before our eyes met. What were you looking for? she asked, her face narrowing, and something still fragile dissolved there. Nothing, I said. I pulled back. From her expression, I was expecting some kind of paranoid tirade or rage and was about to call her out on how sick I was already of walking on eggshells. Instead, Branwenn crumpled. I took her into my arms and held her up while she wept.
It was a long time before she told me what was in the box. It’s Crow, she said finally. He was born ten years after I was. I used to pretend I was the mother bird, is that strange?
It is difficult to compete with the dead. She wouldn’t say much more, and I didn’t ask. Car crash, murder? I felt like an intruder and didn’t want to pry.
I couldn’t get anything right with Branwenn, it seemed. I hoped to hold her in supportive silence, not take more than she wanted to give. But she looked up after awhile and asked, Don’t you even care? Don’t you even want to know?
I’d never had much experience juggling anyone’s grief but my own. I didn’t want to be there. But I held the course. Perhaps it was because I cared—that’s what I thought then. But there was a part of me too that wanted to gather injuries, make note of them in case I would need them later.
One day we were dancing in slutty stockings we’d found in the sale bin, scooping teacups of punch we’d made from some gin and lemons at the market. Watching her feathery fluster, her sensual and awkward groove, I wanted her more than I’d ever wanted anything at all. I wanted to spend my life with her. I wanted to give my life for her. I was spinning a little from the lust and the booze, from the magnitude of my surrender.
When I asked for a glass of water, pushed my punch back on the table, she touched my face with those soft hands and said, Even goddesses may be as qualmish as gypsies. I assumed she was quoting some of the strange, old fashioned poetry she loved. And just as I was about to take the plunge, fumble for the tiny diamond in my pocket, I noticed that she was far away again, and I hesitated.
And that’s where things were when she said it.
You kind of look like him, Robin, do you see it? And she held a little mirror up to my face so I could see myself disappearing.
I fell back from her, furious. You won’t let me love you, I said, finally, instead of what I’d been planning, because you’re still married to your brother.
Maybe I had waited for a long time to say it. But if I thought I would feel liberation after getting that off my chest, wake her or shake her out of a trance with my insightful revelation, it wasn’t like that at all. It was something she already knew and carried, a cage of shame along with all that grief. You wouldn’t let me love you because you knew I would betray you one day, I thought later, the way that I did just then, the way I always turned on everything. And that was how we left it, because there was nowhere else to go after that.
—Winner of the MacQ
RESQ (aka “Qualmish”) Writing Challenge
is an artist, writer, editor, and educator from Toronto, Canada. Her most recent book is Pretty Time Machine: Ekphrastic Prose Poems. She usually writes about art, whether in poetry, essays, or an ongoing column on Wine and Art at Good Food Revolution. Her prose and poems have been widely published in several hundred literary journals and a dozen anthologies, and her work has been twice nominated for Best of the Net and for the Pushcart Prize. Lorette is the founding editor of The Ekphrastic Review (established 2015), which is devoted exclusively to publishing poetry and prose inspired by visual art. She is also an internationally collected, award-winning visual artist.
Visit her at: www.mixedupmedia.ca
Artist’s column in Good Food Revolution:
Wine and Art
A Review of Pretty Time Machine: Ekphrastic Prose Poems
by Jenene Ravesloot (4 February 2020) on Facebook
Fresh Strawberries, an ekphrastic prose poem by Ms. Luzajic
in KYSO Flash (Issue 11, Spring 2019), nominated for Best of the Net and
the Pushcart Prize
Four poems and four collage artworks from Risk Being / Complicated: Poems
by Devon Balwit, Inspired by the Collage Art of Lorette C. Luzajic, reprinted
in KYSO Flash (Issue 12, Summer 2019):
I Have Loved You Since the World Began,
Place Me Like a Seal Over Your Heart
You Think You Know Me
You Walk By and I Fall to Pieces