Softest Keys


I break the water.

The strokes relax me and make me feel strong. I think of my younger sister's back muscles moving and carrying her across the surface of the pool; they now move her boat through rivers. I remember my older sister's right arm muscles dancing perfectly as she swerves her racquet to catch the tiny ball, like a mole on the surface of the squash court.  I have no memory of moving my muscles for action; premeditated action.

I have no memory but this. My body breaking the water. This pool. For years and years.

I break the water and I wonder what broke my heart?

How can it be you I should ask but I have no answers and the questions fill the pool with movement like the memories that flash through my brain and the smell that I can't remember and the tingling of my finger tips on your hair all that fills the pool and the water moves ever so softly while I stretch my bare back and move across it breaking the water slowly and watching my arm go up in the most parallel of incisions cutting across the sky to fall besides my ear one arm at a time one ear at a time and I squint one eyed to protect the eye that isn't leveled with the palm that covers the sun and like a wheel I turn and turn and my shoulder blades never touch but they collide momentarily in theory they brush up against each other and maybe that was what you tried to say then my darling that we are shoulders that never touch.

I have nowhere to go now when I want to hear you play. There is nowhere to hide. The short video I made like a distant reminder, an archival remnant of what we did and where we went and what we fought over and how your music sometimes helped things heal, that is all I have. You at a grand piano in a house by a lake we never swam in. In a house that never belonged to us, with a room we never shared.

For the last five summers now, I have swum across this pool, thinking of you. You have crossed my mind as I crossed the width of it in the different strokes I have been taught. I have broken the water and opened my arms the way I opened them to receive you five summers ago, you so full and eager and beautiful and slightly taken aback by how easy I am.

I don't remember when it was exactly that I was no longer easy, but heavy and you were no longer light although your footsteps were as swift as always.  You treaded around me and around all that I made you feel.

I am much less self-conscious in water. I am fluid, and I am light. I am my grandmother's sweet baby doing a backstroke and meeting her mid-pool. I am aware that perfect strokes do not make us better people. And yet I am so much more comfortable in water. There are no corners to bump into. It is easier to slide away and slip into blue. It is softer and sweeter. I wanted always to swim with you in pools. The things I wanted. Were So Silly. Now that I think of all that I wanted. I kept them to myself. They were just too silly to say out loud. I. Wanted. You. To. See. Me. Swim. Across. A. Pool. Because. I. Am. Much. Less. Clumsy. In. Water.

Maybe then you would have loved me as easy as an arm breaks the water's surface.  

I wanted to be everything I wanted to be and everything you wanted me to be and everything I thought we could be.

I also wanted you to play the piano on my skin.

It was like a dream.

I asked you once how would you feel if I broke the wood of that piano. Your piano. I cannot imagine now the amount of anger behind that question but perhaps you did. I think you were hurt with the thought. When you moved that piano and informed me over messages as I was in another continent, I felt hurt. Petty? Maybe. Like a little girl pouting. Isn't that what made you cringe? The littleness of me?

As a little girl, I told my mother once showing her the tooth of a shark in a book she gave me that I would like her to be hurt with a shark's tooth because she upset me. I felt horrible after that. Like I had killed her. Willed her to die. With a tooth. To have disturbed her that way. To have hurt her. You see, I'm not so kind after all. I felt that way after I asked you. I felt the hurt in your face muscles contracting asking me why, why would I think of that? Breaking. Your. Piano. You maybe knew that I just wanted you to see me. Even if you had to see me standing in the broken ruins of it.

I really am not kind at all. Even if I stroke your hair when you have hurt me.

It was like a dream when later I slept in a bed all made of a single piano. In another city. In another place. In a room we never entered together. One we never will. I walked in to see a piano dismembered and turned into a lair for sleeping. I lay on my stomach in the early morning and let my arm hang down the side of the bed and I tried to play the keys. They were hard. They didn't move. They felt dead. Like Sukkar's body when I had to bury her. No longer soft and cushiony and warm. Her body was cold and hard and her little brown tummy did not give way when you nudged it. A rock the shape of a cat. I carried her and laid her in the earth and didn't want to think of that the morning in April when death hit like a rock in the face, in the mouth, forcing you to swallow your own blood. It's been months now and death is like an aftertaste you cannot get rid of, an aftertaste that you remember every time you swallow. The keys on the piano bed were dead like rocks and yet I kept trying to move them to remember the way your song went but I couldn't.  Dead keys. Dead songs. Dead mornings my love. The summer comes with dead mornings.

This morning I could not drag myself out of bed to go swimming.

Rather I spent the morning in bed thinking of what the water would feel like on my burning back and then I would turn and it would glaze my face and roast my nose. My favorite stroke. The back stroke. When you don't see where you're going. But fixing your eyes on something in the horizon keeps you leveled and keeps you in the right invisible lane. Like piano keys. Lying next to each other. Lanes and keys. All in order.

I cannot forget your fingers. The squarness of your nails. The crooked ways of your bones. All fingers in order like keys you play in softness. Breathing keys. Pumping keys. A press and a breath at the same time.

Softest keys are those I imagined existed on my skin when I wandered into silly thoughts. Thoughts and dreams. Silly thoughts of me and you. Dreams of you playing your music on my skin. My arms. My back. My neck. A stroke. A pulse. A key. A note.

I can no longer hear your music and I can no longer kiss your hands but somehow I no longer miss them except when I long to hear you play and I wish to have left you a note on your mirror so that you could see it when you were back that I was there and I saw the piano covered to protect it from dust and I wanted to uncover it and see you seated and playing and breaking into notes so that I can stroke the back of your neck and breathe down your hair line as I ask you what has changed my love what has changed between us so that we part lanes and break keys like swimmers unable to keep up with each other like when you swim a side stroke and watch that your speed is like who you are swimming with that effort was too exhausting was it not maybe had it been the breast stroke without breathing in to go deep down and spreading your body like a fish I felt like a fish out of water in your room after so long has passed and after so long of not hearing you play and after months of not swimming my back aches so beautifully when I reach out and move my arm against my check and I feel my back arching and flowing into water flowing into coolness into memories of years of swimming with you on my mind and my grandmother beside me knowing I have lost loved ones to this water.


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