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Now that there is a deadline upon it, I practice my adoration ever more fervently. What to wait for—the inevitable departure? Better, I think, to go on as though there’s nothing to lose or prove. In bed with Chris, mouths burning with whiskey and bundled up in blankets, I rub my nose against his. I tell him I adore him as though the statement will not lose power once spoken. On my tongue it’s a promise, a spell.

After the cold snap, the warmth in the air—60 degrees—feels like spring after winter, which is the kind of weather I associate with falling in love. It’s painfully beautiful, for October: the blue sky seems bluer with red leaves quivering before it. The colors vibrate against each other so hotly it makes my eyes hurt. In the car—we’re driving again—I say it’s too bad that English doesn’t have very many words for color.

“Then you read Virginia Woolf and you realize just how many colors there are,” he says, glancing over at me. He puts his hand on my knee. There is a rip in my tights, it ladders up my thigh.

“But they’re mostly flowers,” I argue. I mean to say if they’re not flowers they’re referents, like salmon or russett or periwinkle or gold, all words that you can only believe in if you’ve seen them. Violet. Rose. Forget-me-nots, which are also called bluets. Sally Seton’s cut blossoms floating in a bowl of water.

“Red is a word for a color that isn’t a word for anything else,” I say.

The week goes by in one trembling blur, a susurrus of sensation. I feel like we’re always fucking or about to; I can anticipate it in my mouth, between my legs, a hole that aches and needs filling. Here I am with my hands pinned behind my back and my face in the mattress and the gag in my mouth—taste of rubber and my own spit and all the moans the ball is trapping—and he is inside me and I am trying so hard to contain all of him in me, pushing my ass back against him like if we fuck hard enough I’ll disappear. And then what. A Friday. I sit on his lap and read him poems. I lean over to trace the shape of his mouth with my tongue.

When he fucks me from behind my wishbone necklace bounces against my sternum and I think I could fall to pieces. One night I turn my head away as though to lose myself but he cradles the side of my face in his hand and says, “Stay with me,” so I start crying, dense, pillowy tears bubbling up from some fount deep within my chest.

But I can’t stop. He pulls out. Goes to the bathroom to get me tissues so I can blow my nose. Waiting for him in the dark I feel impossibly sensitive.

On the freeway, somewhere on the New Jersey Turnpike, we catch sight of a flock of starlings, a dense cloud of birds peppering the bright blue sky. As we drive, the flock swirls and floats, ebbing into itself, undulating and widening and narrowing to a tiny point, then swelling huge again. “Look,” we say to each other. “Look.” We see three or four of these flocks, driving through Jersey. Each time we encounter one I want to press my face against the glass, I want to stop time, the way I always want to stop it once I think I’ve found my perfect forever.

How do they move like that, he wants to know. And what is it called. We look it up. It’s hundreds of starlings moving in something larger than individual units, it’s emergent properties, it’s a system. The name for it is murmuration. It happens because each bird moves in response to the birds around it, a ring of seven, all tightly connected, instinctively rippling in response to something sensed on the other edge of the flock.

How can it be learned? How can it be choreographed? I consider it, sitting next to him, who is here but soon will be leaving. I consider my instincts, all the things animals know without being told.


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