Petals of the Yellow Dahlia

Petals of the Yellow Dahlia

Petals of the Yellow Dahlia 1920 1225 Norman Belanger

Early light creeps in, silent as a thief, to steal across tangled sheets. I watch, jealous of its caress on your skin. I watch it reclaim the curve of your shoulder, the arc of your arm. I watch pale white daylight suffuse the shadows of your cheek, kiss your lips. Open windows let in a breeze, salt scented, tangy with the sea and coming rain, a gust plays in the gauzy curtains, riffs your hair. Gulls hang over the bay, they squawk and swoop. Out on Long Point, the lone lighthouse calls its mournful warning, it stands stark and mute against a flat gray sky. My eyes return to you. I will remember the taste of you, the smell of you, but even now your features shimmer on the cusp of memory, as if you are already gone.

By your side, on the battered table, in a chipped glass vase that rings brightly in a shaft of dust-moted light, the yellow dahlia seems to burst like a dying sun, its dropped petals tell of the days we’ve been given, a calendar of passed time: hours spent in the overgrown garden, dozing together under the shade of a hammock tree, the drone of bees and dragonflies, sun filled days, full days, brimming over days, sighing wind in the dunes, glass-still silver bay, shadows growing long in the tall grass as September mellows on, fog misting blurring blue, the cold damp brown sand of the flats where we ran, barefoot, laughing-

In the end, we would only know a season, a handful of moments, so many dropped petals.

Soon enough, you will stir, you will wake, smiling, turn to me.

“Hold me,” you will say. “Kiss me.”

And of course, I will.

Later, we will be out walking, fresh faced and clean shaven, you will wear the straw hat you bought for the beach. Your hand will reach for mine, and it will feel so perfect to be with you, that if I were to say it, this would be the moment, under the murmuring trees and stirring sky. When you look at me, maybe you will read it on my face, how I love you, how much this time is so like the end of a dream, a journey to the far lighthouse, but I won’t say it. You will still get on that boat. You will still leave.

The moment passes, my heart unsaid.

Again, I will have to let you go.

Our feet will kick up the dirt in the flower filled lane. The crunch of gravel under the wheels of your travel bag will sound so loud in the wordless silence of our world, loud enough to drown out the cry of birds scurrying before a storm.

“You’ll come see me, ” you will say, again, finally, breaking the quiet between us. You will tell me once more about Manilla, the lush seasons and the monsoons, half a world away.

“Yes,” I will say, again. But we won’t talk anymore about visas and consulates.  I won’t say again there will be only 10,000 miles between us. We won’t pretend, this time. And then, the quiet will settle in again, with your hand still in mine.

When the rain finally comes, we will duck into the old bookstore, to breathe in the dust and lusty smells of yellowing paper, the rain will pummel the low roof and we will huddle close together, close enough that I’ll feel that warmth of you, and feel that tightness in my chest. (The scent of old books will remind me of you, forever.) Piles of books, stacks of books, shelves of books everywhere, we will browse, finger spines of paperbacks and faded book jackets. I will find it, in a dark corner, the one we talked about, a cheap edition, scarred green hard covered and musty. Virginia Woolf. To the Lighthouse. I will buy it for you, and when you are not looking I will use the leaky pen borrowed from the counter guy to write on the flyleaf the note you maybe will read on the ferry back to Boston, or in any of the series of planes that will bring you across continent and sea. You will know then, if you don’t know now.

Or maybe, it will go unread, like my words, unsaid.

The rain will slow down to a steady drizzle.

“You’ll miss your boat,” I will say, hating the words, hating that the time has come, the moment avoided now arrived. You will look at me, your brown eyes brightened, brimming, your hand on mine, the softness of that touch. The pier will be busy, crowded, loud with noise of conversations and horns blaring from high masts, our quiet time alone ends, the perfect days that were just ours, the hours of high tide, as we are swallowed up in the swell of people, your grasp will tighten as we wind our way through,

but when we get to the waiting ferry, you will stop me.

“Please.”

I will kiss you then.

“I can’t.”

“I’m not going to say good bye.”

A smile will play on your face, all the sadness we won’t say will be forever written on that face.

“Please. Go.” You will touch my cheek for the last time.

But all of that is yet to happen:

it will all unreel, just as it always does, like a film unspooling, over and over.

When I remember, I will come back to this moment of morning light on your naked skin. I will come back to this room, here, now, to watch you as you lie in my bed, before you wake and turn to me, before any of the rest, I will stay in the amber of this moment, the yellow dahlia dropping petals bearing witness as I linger, just before I touch with tracing finger the ess of your spine,

I return here again, to the moment of this fleeting late summer

when you are still mine.

Header photography © Jason D. Ramsey.

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