When I arrive, Fisher is measuring and marking planks of wood with a pencil he keeps clamped between his teeth. His bare toes, peeking out from the frayed hem of his jeans, are tapping in time with a reggae song I don’t know the name of. Fisher nods in my direction, pushing black curls off his forehead with his wrist. He sticks the pencil behind his ear and turns back to his wood—my wood. Soon the planks will be bookshelves: a birthday gift, a labor of friendship to atone for all the gifts that have gone ungiven, all the holidays that have gone unmarked. The same holidays I have spent tracing thoughts of Fisher’s face in my dreams, mapping out its angles in my memory.
It takes me a moment now to adjust to the sight of him, to the presence of flesh and bone. I am more accustomed to his voice, that honey syrup drip that slides into my eardrums over long-distance wires. Having him here, in my home, in front of me, is jolting. It has been too long since I have seen him sitting across my table or sprawled upon my sofa. I resist the urge for physical confirmation, though my hands ache toward the damp, baby curls along his nape. My fingertips itch to trace the outline of his spine pressing through his T-shirt. I long for the contact of bone so that I can remember something solid the next time he leaves.
I have kissed Fisher only once, years ago on a drunken New Year’s dare. Still, the ripeness of his mouth has stayed with me, forever reminding me of mangos and peaches, of juicy summer fruit spilling onto my tongue. He is there, softness just splitting the skin, in my head. I’ve tried to sketch him, but the charcoal refused to capture the shadows under his cheekbones or the fullness of his mouth. No paints or pencils or brushes could translate the taste of him onto a flat piece of paper. I gave up trying a long time ago.
I watch him measure and mark as I put bottles and jars away. It is bewitching to watch him; the way he handles the wood, balancing the weight in his palms, the grace of tendons and sinew moving and flowing. There is beauty in the way he can take something raw and turn it into something finished. The alchemy of construction, he calls it. Turning base to noble. Exerting outside force upon the pieces to turn them into something whole, something new, something altogether different.
My father used to build things when I was young; dollhouses and bookcases, coffee tables with brass-ringed portholes that revealed a fish tank within. The scent of sawdust always transports me back to the familiar, to scenes of growing up, to home. Smelling it now however, clinging to Fisher’s skin like perfume, makes my heart sing out for my mother. No tools were strong enough to save her. No amount of hammering, no amount pounding or force or magic or alchemy could stop her dying.
I know Fisher hammers and pounds to keep his own demons at bay. He builds to forget. I know them, his demons and dreams, I know what keeps him awake, what he fights to forget. Years of late night phone calls and drunken confessions, of consolation conversations, have left a crack in his soul into which I can peer. I remember his bruises and scars, plum and livid, even if he does not.
Finished now, I sit on the floor, my back against the wall. There is a stray nail and I use the pointy tip to gouge out old dirt and lint from the cracks and spaces in the boards. Across the room Fisher holds the wood up to the wall, aligning it with holes he’s already drilled into the plaster. The planks are narrow, only the width of a paperback. I asked him to keep them rough and natural, unsanded and unstained. I hope that running my hands over the raw wood, feeling tiny splinters catch on my skin, will bring me closer to home; connect me in some little way to nature. To seasons and space and air and light. That for the time it takes for a sliver of wood to pierce my skin I could forget the tiny apartment in the dirty city and think of home.
Fisher turns and smiles at me, a handful of nails between his teeth. He raises a dark eyebrow and I nod, understanding his wordless question after years of silences and absence. He turns back to the wall, away from me. The nail is still in my hand and I use the tip to trace shadows on the floor before I put it into my mouth between my teeth. It is warm from being in my grip, but the metallic taste is cold. I run my tongue over the flat head of it, feeling the slight irregularities in the edges. I want to swallow the sharp taste of nails in tandem, create some sort of conduit. It is as close as I can get, this intimacy of taste, this imagined connection between our mouths.
I wish Fisher would teach me this trick of building things out of nothings. I would welcome the callouses that come from wielding heavy tools or the vibrations from a drill down deep in my marrow if it were possible to build us new selves. I’d take bones and skin and muscle and soul, nail them and jigsaw screw until I had something better. Something new. The alchemy of construction. I would take the broken pieces and build us both new souls: strong enough to withstand the desires of one and the demons of the other. I would leave just enough room for one more summer fruit kiss.
Dina Honour is an American writer living in Copenhagen, Denmark. Her work has appeared in Paste Magazine, Hippocampus Magazine, Biographile and in the literary anthology Precipice, among others. She recently completed work on her first novel and is experiencing phantom limb syndrome in her fingertips from lack of typing. Find her on Twitter (@DinaHonour) or at Wine and Cheese (Doodles).