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Connect the Dots Love

N says we’re looking for that Leo and Kate love that crashes sudden, veins fire and ice, the kind where you go down with the ship.

I tell N that Kate didn’t die, except inside, but N doesn’t mind because she’s lusting after Leo while I’m trying not to stare at Kate’s pale bobbing breasts. I wonder how he can concentrate enough to draw her with a steady hand, to make a solid line. Her skin’s like N’s, translucent moon and swoon.

We lay out in the sun to urn, trying so hard to be golden that even our skin peels away from us. We talk sky (good) and sea (better) and how to breathe in a circle to make the music last.

We’re listening to the Spice Girls say what they really, really want and N shows me how to be two ways at once—breathing in even as you exhale. “The note won’t break,” she says, fingering her imaginary clarinet. “No one knows when you’re struggling for air.”

 I can’t keep up. I’m always spurting out staccato, gasping where I begin, choking when I end.

N touches my throat, my stomach. We practice breathing together like the afternoon never ends.

Maybe love is Leo letting go, the way he freezes when the hurt is too good. N swears he’s ro-man-tic, stretching out the middle like her want, gender a pulse in her throat. Her hand grasps mine during sleepover movies when an asteroid heads towards earth or the poltergeist comes through the television.

It feels like everything is always dying—my breath on my tongue, the small fish of N’s foot in my lap when Ben saunters by, the smell of vanilla body spray we waltz through before the school dance where we slam our bodies down and wind them all around.

Ben grabs my waist and later N cries because she has no one to dance with but me.

“Connect the dots,” N says into the mirror while I bring her Dr. Pepper Lip Smackers to my lips like a kiss. “You don’t count.”

 With the lights out and the glow-in-the-dark bracelets we wave through the gym, I am a specter, my lonely lit up for the world to see.

In band, N taps my thigh to keep time. I struggle to keep up, the sound my instrument makes a strangle. It’s better not to make noise, I think. Since I’m always behind, it’s better not to breathe at all.

In science I label the parts of a jellyfish—the tentacles, the arms that capture prey and ingest them with poisonous venom, but that also pull desire up into the mouth hidden hungry in the center of the creature. They pulse and billow like ghosts, gorgeous if they want, invisible if they need.

I remind N that the Titanic didn’t sink that deep, instead became a reef. Jellyfish dance through the ballroom, stand on the railing, arms out and flying.

But N isn’t interested in the wreckage, just the wreck. She wants that romance where someone loves you because they leave. Where you know you were special because someone haunts you the rest of your life.

Sarah Fawn Montgomery is the author of Quite Mad: An American Pharma Memoir (The Ohio State University Press, 2018) and three poetry chapbooks. Her work has been listed as notable several times in Best American Essays, and her poetry and prose have appeared or are forthcoming in various magazines including Bellingham Review, Brevity, Cincinnati Review, DIAGRAM, Electric Literature, LitHub, The Poetry Foundation, The Rumpus, Southeast Review, Split Lip Magazine, and others. She is an Assistant Professor at Bridgewater State University. You can follow her on Twitter at @SF_Montgomery

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