there are drying flowers hanging above her sink in crisp brown silence

. childhood memories are tricky

this is a love story 
she says 
whipping through my life 

five years older and still immature 

she says 
i'm trying to kick the habit 
lines up the end of her burning cigarette with the sunset 
tries to find some solace in the pale moon 
and i sit next to her, 
feet swinging

she blows the smoke in the opposite direction from me 

she feeds me crepes in the morning
laughs 
says i'd almost forgotten how to cook breakfast 
sits down with an empty plate 
chews on her fingernails while i finish

and when she takes my plate to the sink 
she washes it with white-knuckled hands 
doesn't believe in dishwashers
says she can do it all by herself

i was younger 
a child 
and she was just. 

there
i guess

the relative i got tossed to when nobody else was free

and she'd sit on the balcony 
lean over 
over 
over

farther until her toes were visible coming out from underneath the railing 
hair whipping in a frenzy around her head
pale blonde hair in a crazed halo 
she looked insane on those days

out-of-her mind beautiful 

she points to a picture 
a woman, short and angry
lips pursed in a scowl with laughing eyes 

and she says 
this is a love story 

when i go home 
i say 
this is a love story 

and my mother rips the words from my throat 
with a lashing tongue 
tells me not to speak of things i don't know 

but i still go back 
shuffled back and forth 

the hurricaned woman doesn't talk about the way it is when it rains
how we sit on opposite sides of the couch in silence
her head curled into her arm and knees drawn up
she shakes quietly

i don't realize
at first

don't until many years later

that the woman folded in soggy origami
knees knocking like empty wooden birds singing their songs to a hollowed forest
is crying

there is a hospital bracelet 
in her jewelry box

next to fake pearls and tarnished silver rings 
it is plastic with print that fades 
and i don't want to read the name 

she dances 
sometimes
when she thinks i'm not looking 

child eyes and child mind

her feet do the steps deftly 
sense and muscle memory 
this isn't dancing anymore it's just recitation 
repetition 

her arms full of air 
she hums 
hair tangled in faded yellow 
like old straw 
sun-bleached 

and i do not mention 
how she is doing a partner dance 

she is doing a partner dance with a ghost 

and when she comes back to herself
jerks to a stop slowly like a low-battery machine 
she tugs the corners of her lips up like they're impaled with fishhooks and being pulled 
to make a macabre attempt at a smile for me 

she sleeps on the left side of the bed 
and when she wakes in the morning 
she only ever has to make up the right side's sheets

because she stays curled in aching longing on her own side 

even though she is sharing the bed with her dancing ghost 

she doesn't take medication 
just goes for runs and stares at carved-out fridges 
smiles with blank eyes at me 

the rattling sound of pills rolling inside an empty bottle is a lullaby to me 
one that she forbids 

and one day 
i find sketches 

there are older ones 
stuffed in notebooks 
and they are amateur renditions of her face 

done in short, bold strokes of pen 
she is laughing in them 
in a way i have never seen her

and on the backs of those 

in angry pencil 
are equally as unfinished sketches of the woman in the photograph 
the irritated woman with the laughing eyes 
and she is slumped on a bathroom floor with her eyes now glossy and her fingers loose 
around a pill bottle's choking neck

i don't dig further
don't sort through more personal memories stored in jewelry boxes
and bedside table drawers 
because 

there is a woman who dances with her in the uninhabited air of her apartment 

and there is a woman who she saves the right side of the bed for 

and there is a woman who frowns in badly-taken photographs 

and there is a woman who is the reason there are no pills for pain within her grasp 

and there is a woman whose wrist once fit into a hospital bracelet 

the same way that same woman would fit into a casket 

and she says 
this is a love story 
trying to slow to a stop but just blowing herself over in the process
smoking cigarettes at night 

exhaling the smoke in long-learned tricks 
making me stay behind the glass of the balcony and away from it 
i am allowed to watch from a distance 

a spectator never a participator

she is young despite her age 
jagged edges smoothed with lopsided ungenuine smiles
alone alone alone 

she is in love with a ghost 

and she says, 
this is a love story.

The End

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