The boy leaves you alone in the hotel. He closes the door,and by the time it latches, he can hear you crying. You’re already feeling sick. This is the version of the storywhere the elevator is broken, so he takes the stairs instead. And he asks the man at the desk if he can recommend a good bar, and the man asks, Where’s your friend?The doors open automatically at his movement. In the parking lot, the boy looks upto the window, recognizing the TV’s dull glow pulsing in the room.
In this version, you leavetogether. At the park by the highway, cicada calls mix with the lamplight’sgrind, a new static. A man sits on a bench, his hand aloftas if conducting — on the tip of his finger he holds a signaling firefly. The boy repeating I’ve been in your mind, and it was a vision. I’ve been in your mind, and it was a nightmare.He pulls you closer, presses his mouth to yours, grit of your beard, grit of his beard, the moon refracting off of the lake.
You wake up in the hotel. The boy shaking you, shirtless, curled hair writing [End Page 45] questions across his chest. He’s asking you to say somethingcrass to make him hate you. All you can do is feel him on top of you, think about hisincisors, just out of line with the rest of his teeth.Say something awful! he yells. He’s shaking you. He knows he is leaving.
Four sides of the same coin, four dreams, four different ways of telling the same fucking story.Four more turns of the kaleidoscope, the pieces of the world falling into another set of outcomes.This is the one where you’ve never even met the boy. This time, you write your own storyabout a little girl holding her mother’s hand in the rain, her black raincoat iridescent under the streetlamps. Nothingsuggestive about it — just words on a page. This is the version in which you drink a little too much and you tell your friendsI just wish I could feel the way that you do. I just wish —
You’ve picked up someone at a bar, someone else. Lying next to him, waiting for sleep to take you, shadows from the windowmaking his face seem more interesting than it actually is. Reminding youthat you’ve always liked your people a little scarred, a little broken. [End Page 46] People who aren’t afraid to show the ways they’ve been hurt. His face is nothing like that.
You’re back in the hotel. The balconydoor is open — curtains blowing in the wind, it’s like you’re in a movie. You see him standing against the rail,you run out, he says Having a body is the greatest burden the soul can bear. I’m asking too much of it.
His eyes shine, sharp as obsidian.
How futile your efforts have been to fill that void,the attempt to fill a copper kettle with spoonfuls of fresh snow, the burner on high. [End Page 47]
Jim Whiteside holds degrees from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Vanderbilt University. His poems appear or are forthcoming in cream city review, Forklift, Ohio, Ninth Letter, Phoebe, and Post Road, among others. Originally from Cookeville, Tennessee, he works as a barista and occasionally teaches in Greensboro, North Carolina.