A woman is outside at five a.m., hugging herself, telling her dog to pee. Silver webs through her pink-blonde hair. Her slippers sandpaper across the cement. Before all this started, the magnolia tree bloomed for a week.
“What’s your name?” I ask through the screen on my window.
“I’m tired,” she says.
“Just tell me.”
“That was easy.”
“Who else would I talk to?”
“He’s an idiot.”
On her forehead, Morgan’s skin tucks into three soft folds. Freckles flare across her nose. A dimple buoys in her cheek. Her hands are chapped like all of our hands, except hers have red pin pricks on them.
“Have you gone anywhere?”
“Where would you go?”
Morgan’s eyes land on the top corner of my window.
“To Ohio,” she says.
“It’s where my daughter is.”
“Is she okay?”
Morgan’s fingers dig into the pockets of her muslin bathrobe. She sucks in the fog drip from her nose. When she does this, I can see her collarbone raise and recess.
I want to tell her last night I dreamt of textures…of purple velvet dresses on my hips. Or a fur shawl beneath my neck. The thin hairs of an eyebrow on rising bone. A meaty shoulder, if I was lucky, or a worn cotton shirt. Curly chest hair between my fingers, thick pulpy hair on heads. What about backs, with zits constellating below fingertips? Or the nights in Bernal, beneath a fleece blanket where skin encased me like a sausage, like nothing could ever more tightly bound a thing, and I was hot, and reckless in my abundance of human.
“Where would you go?” Morgan asks.
“LA, to see my grandma.”
A light shoots up from a room two floors up. The sun reaches the ladder propped against the apartment building. The aluminum steps flicker. The wood panels turn lavender. Soon it’ll be time for coffee filters and instant oatmeal and virtual meetings that cleave our heads.
I place my hand to the screen. “Touch it.”
“It’ll be okay.”
Morgan lines her hand up with mine. Her fingertips are cold marbles. She bends her palm into the mesh. She smells of coriander and brine. Her eyes are pastel, and green and expanding. They find me in a pause, in a moment of brief inhale, which is when Morgan becomes an ashy powder whooshing to the ground.
Ali Littman lives in San Francisco. She is the author of Radio Underground (Last Syllable Books, 2018) and teaches Creative Writing at San Francisco State University, where she is earning her MFA. She is the recipient of the Kathryn A. Manoogian School prize in Creative Writing.