Anser Journal

a summer fling that could have been

By Zoe Cunniffe

we dance around the words for weeks,
sidestepping goodbye in the hallway
because i still run into you in the kitchen every morning
and watch you making toast.
you cross your arms as the bread darkens,
morning sunlight stitched into your ponytail.

we wear old t-shirts from the night before,
soft white fabrics, bare faces,
socked feet sliding on wood floor,
and it is almost like we are a real couple,
like when we go our separate ways,
there will be goodnight phone calls
and countdowns to our reunion.

you break up with your boyfriend in the living room,
and he stares at your forehead
while you stumble through a speech
that you stole from a rom-com we watched together,
four feet apart on the sofa.
once you’ve mumbled that it’s not him,
it’s you, he gives you the finger, red-faced,
and your eyes follow the back of his head
until he’s out of sight.

you’re packing, clothes strewn around the room,
asking if i’ve seen your red top.
it’s in my desk drawer
under the note you wrote me one morning
when you got up early and left me a stack
of french toast you made at five am.
i want to ask if i can keep it,
if my memories of you will really just be
trips to the grocery store,
dinner in front of the television,
hiding in my room while your boyfriend kisses you downstairs,
but it wouldn’t make any sense
so i leave the top on your nightstand.

on the last night,
i sneak into your room
and hold your hand while you sleep.
i’ve never woken up next to you before this,
but i can still pretend
that the last time will mean something.
i want to know if you toss and turn
or sleep flat on your back like you’re stargazing.
living with you has let me know you
in a way i’ve never known anyone before,
and it’s a luxury that your toothbrush
sleeps next to mine in the bathroom—
a type of intimacy i’ve never gotten hold of until now,
but i’d rather just kiss you.

you don’t need a ride to the airport,
so we walk to breakfast.
in another world, i would take your hand,
but in this one we eat stale croissants
and talk about politics.
maybe you are wishing you had the courage
to leave me a note
saying that you watch every time i walk away
and trace my steps,
how they never line up,
that you once crept into my bedroom at four am
to observe the rise and fall of my chest,
but realized you can’t see someone’s breathing
when they’re buried underneath miles of sheets.

Zoe Cunniffe is a poet and singer-songwriter from Washington, DC. She has previously been published in literary journals such as Blue Marble Review, New Reader Magazine, and Velvet Fields Magazine. Zoe can be found on Instagram at @there.are.stillbeautifulthings.