the sacred insignia by Stephanie Guo

she took his lungs

and salted them: yes:

 

they pickled

and smelled of jaundiced rubber:

of too-careful afternoons:

of chlorine,

smoky and ethereal,

chlorine,

insistent and sweet.

 

(she was the queen of hearts

and he was her knight,

forever doomed to treading water

for that lilied hand: outstretched,

always outstretched, but

 

too bright.) and smiling

from two lanes over:

palms pressed together:

she’d promise kisses

for near-drownings –

 

he would feign stillness

until the coldness seeped to his forehead

and he became convinced that the world

was draped in erstwhile frills –

the veering vertigo of her mirth,

to be sure.

 

(his lips would taste of iron

for many days thereafter:

but it didn’t matter

as long as hers did, too)

 

come winter,

when the water was too still to fathom

and his eyes were too cold

to see out of,

she brought him goggles,

asked him to slip

into the water. head submerged,

he drank in the chlorine

deeply. a second gulp. a fourth…

 

her gaze was as quiet

as it was loud. as the ripples

became smaller and smaller,

she slowly drained the pool of water,

waited three careful hours  –

long after his spit had slackened –

to pull him out

and brush white fingers

against still-whiter cheeks.

 

that last fleeting taste

of frost –

his haste or hers?