You’re asleep, facing away from me. The glow of the street light creeping through your fading curtains illuminates the soft hair at the top of your back and neck. I watch you. I’m tempted to touch you, to caress the hair and run my fingertips down your back, let them trace the terrain well-travelled over these years.
I stop myself.
Rise, fall, rise, fall: your breathing has a soothing quality. I can’t get back to sleep because you’ve unravelled yourself from the confines of our duvet, and you know how I like to cuddle. One of your legs is bent towards you, enhancing the curvature of your bottom beneath your Calvin Klein boxers. They’re black, and I bought them for you for Valentine’s Day or your birthday. I don’t remember when, but they do remind me of better times.
Hot under the covers, I pull the duvet off too, careful not to wake you. Your steady breathing sighs success. From beneath the bed I retrieve an A3 sketchpad, some shading pencils, and I sit at the foot of our bed. Flicking through the sketchpad I see how every day seemed the same but, in hindsight, everything has changed. For every sleepless night there is a sketch of you.
I begin with the CK boxer waistband. It brings back the smell of coffee in Paris, and my taste buds tickle for croissants. When did we last have breakfast in bed? The contours of your legs are simple, understated, with each strand of hair masking the power behind your thighs. I remember cycling, walks, and other physical activities we’ve forgotten we enjoy. I record you as you are and not as I remember you. One arm is underneath the pillow where your head rests and the bicep bulges the way you used to flaunt because you knew I liked it. Your hand lies limp over the edge of the bed, your fingers gripping nothing, letting me slip through.
My pencil keeps sketching your landscape; your back, shoulder blades, the hair I wanted to touch, your neck. After I finish drawing the back of your head I place the pencil down, look at my drawing, and then back to your sleeping body, comparing the two.
I’ve tried to put on paper what I see in front of me, but there are parts of you I cannot map. I wonder what’s beneath your skull, what you’re dreaming of now, and what keeps the light dancing behind your eyes when you’re awake.
Peaceful, you take a deep breath, roll over, and I gaze at your chest, hairier than your back, but, oddly, I like it. I imagine my fingers crawling over your sternum and running over your ribs. I picture myself slipping my hand beneath your lungs and stroking your heart. I want to see if it’s my name etched on the ventricle walls, but something tells me I already know. I set my sketchbook down and rest my ear on your chest, savouring whatever’s left.
SANTINO PRINZI helps with National Flash Fiction Day in the UK and is the Flash Fiction Editor of Firefly Magazine. He was the recipient of the TSS Young Writers Award, the 2014/15 Bath Spa University Flash Fiction Prize, and has been longlisted, shortlisted, or placed in other competitions. His flash fiction, prose poetry, and short stories have been published or are forthcoming in various journals or anthologies, including Ink Sweat and Tears, CHEAP POP, Flash Frontier, The Best of Vine Leaves Literary Journal 2015, and Unbroken Literary Journal. You can keep up to date or contact him via his Twitter or his website.
This story is taken from his debut flash fiction collection, Dots, and other flashes of perception, which is available to order from The Nottingham Review in print or as an ebook here.