Count the Words, Hold your Breath
by Aki Schilz
Winner of the Bare Fiction Prize for Flash Fiction 2014
You could be any one of my lovers: they all look the same when I’m lonely (count them).
In the beginning was, bye then. After came, but I loved you. Too late, of course. Before the before, you taught me the word ‘kintsugi’, then became exasperated when I romanticised it and stood saying it in front of the mirror, or singing it while you were in the shower. Kintsugi-kintsugi-kintsugi-kintsugi-ki-in-tsu-u-gi-i.
I tried to wrap it in cellophane and blow it into a flower. Ikebana? I offered one morning over breakfast. I held a croissant cupped like a gold half-moon in my hand. You scowled and your eyebrows were two pencils drawing down into the soft line of your nose that fanned wide and tapered into two perfectly circular nostrils. I always admired that, even though you said it was a weird thing to admire. That upset me. I think circles are beautiful: whole and neat like mouths in the pucker of orgasm. Flower-arranging is an art, you said. Kintsugi is repair. Art, repair; same difference, I said. I thought I’d said something true. You told me to stop being blind to the suffering in the world, stop trying to make beauty out of thin air. I think you’re the most interesting and most beautiful thing in the world, I told you. I’m not a THING, you said. Bye then.
After the after, I gave all my lovers words. Never the Japanese ones: those were yours and I put them all in a box with the paintings I made for you that you forgot to take when you left, and the ticket stubs to the exhibitions we went to together (Do you remember Bacon? You asked me if I was afraid. I wasn’t and you were disappointed. At the Southbank we watched a woman swim through the sea wearing feathers. You tasted like apples, or saltwater.)
I tried Sehnsucht. I tacked it to the window of the second lover after you (the first was blurred by vodka; I forgot to give him anything, though perhaps before I left in the morning I whispered into the doorway something that might have sounded like ganef. I took his shoes because I couldn’t find mine in the unfamiliar dark of his room.) I liked the second. He had a kind face and I liked the way his elbows bent out like wings when he slept. Three was tmesis. It sounds like a sneeze, don’t you think? Tmesis. Bless you! I said in the bar where we met. I fitted the word quickly and neatly into his mouth when he kissed me. His lips were dry and his smile curled in a way that made my stomach hurt. “Did you say something?”
There’s a word for why you left, and a word for the beauty of your nostrils. Perhaps they are waiting somewhere. Perhaps they are the same word. Bye, then.
Count the Words, Hold your Breath was the winner of the Bare Fiction Prize for Flash Fiction 2014 and first appeared in Issue 5 of Bare Fiction Magazine in March 2015.