She’s tripping over her own feet, and my own feet too. Stumbling around heavy furniture. Can’t move around the low hem of her dress. She’s drunk. Or maybe I’m drunk. We’re falling.
When she’s in my arms, it’s almost like she hasn’t grown an inch, not a pound, since I found her. She’s small—folded into herself and pressed against my chest. Mine. I like her best when our heads are swimming and we crash into the floor. Our breathing is staggered—a soft back and forth. She doesn’t move at all, except trailing her fingertip along the scars on my chest.
“Alex,” she says, “Tell me again how you found me.”
I shift her weight between my arms. “Not now. Not again.”
She whimpers, maybe. I can’t quite hear her. Bows her head into the hollow of my collarbones. She hums into my skin, vibrates through my bones. I feel her in my cartilage. “Please,” she murmurs. “I want to pretend I’m blind again.”
I sigh—maybe groan—and raise myself off the ground so that I am sitting up. She stays cradled in my lap. “You were a blind girl,” I say. “You were a blind and hungry girl, and you were too small to take care of yourself. So I brought you home with me. The end.”
“No. Tell it the right way.”
I lift her out of my lap. Stand up. Stretch my legs. I keep my back to her and take a few steps to try and clear my mind. She stays cross-legged on the ground, watching me. Maybe examining my movements. Maybe wondering if I would come back. Maybe just looking.
The moon comes in through the window like artificial cell phone light. It’s harsh. “Look, Jasmine. I don’t know. I’m drunk.”
“Liar,” she whispers.
“That story’s so old I don’t even know if it actually happened.”
“I don’t care. Tell me anyway. I want to hear it.” She sits up on her knees. I turn to face her. Her stance is urgent. The shadows fall on her face like cobweb. She looks so breakable I want to cry.
“Alright.” I lean against the countertop and pop my back. “Come up here and listen. I’ll try.”
She hops up and meets me under the kitchen light. Leans her little self into. Kisses me once between my ribs, then lifts herself onto the counter beside me. She looks up at me, so much like a baby, with soft doughy skin, too fucking stupid to know what’s coming. I want to bash her teeth in. I don’t.
“Once upon a time,” I say, slowly. “I was a little boy, and I was bored. I was lonely in the city, and I missed hearing music.”
“How little were you?”
I lean my head back on my shoulder, mind working, and continue. “So I went on a walk. I was so lonely that I was angry, and I was mean. I was looking for someone to fight. I hurt all the dirty hobos for being in my way. It was terrible.” She places her arms around one of mine, holds me tight.
“What made you stop?”
“I was cold. I couldn’t go home because I couldn’t remember where it was. So I stumbled, bruised and banged up, looking for somewhere warm. I found a little girl. She was so little she seemed shrunken—I almost didn’t see her—but she had a fire, and she was willing to share. I think she was you.”
“How little was I?”
“Two years old.”
She lets go of me and huffs. “That’s not true.”
I chuckled and pulled her back into my chest. “No, it’s not. You were exactly thirty-nine and a half. And you were hungry and blind, but you were still so kind to me. You let me stay by your fire, and you told me about all the things you wished you could see. You missed your sight.”
She buries her face into my chest. “I like this part. I like to close my eyes.”
“I told you that I missed hearing music, so you sang me a song. It was long and sad and our tears froze against our noses, but it was beautiful. In return, I told you about all the things I had seen. Even the ugly things. You liked to hear about those the best.”
Suddenly, my chest is wet. I realize she is crying and squeeze her. “You okay?”
She whimpers. A childlike sob. “I know how the rest of the story goes. Can we stop now?”
“Of course, sweetheart.”
I carry her over to the couch and hold her in my lap, wait for her to fall asleep. I look up at the ceiling and describe all the little pictures I find in the plaster.