Ilse. I saw you on the road, turning fouettes in a circle. You were barefoot in the dirt, one leg extended into the air, your fleshy calves speckled with rain like apple skins. You used to study ballet with Frau Gärtner, Thea's maiden aunt. That was before she moved back to the city. She would come to your home with a carpet bag and a Parisian felt hat. Inside the bag were pink stockings and a small black leotard. Inside the hat was Frau Gärtner's curly auburn hair. And in front of the mirror in your parents' bedroom, she pushed your slender hips down as you pliéd, folded your hands up above your head, nudged in the small of your back. Afterwards, in came your father with his foul-tasting cigar smoke and the money was exchanged. She kissed you and left a lipstick print on your cheek and then left. Now she's living in Frankfurt with an older man and their daschund, who may or may not have died last March of infected tick bites.
Now you're living on the street with a man's shirttails and a clutch full of lilacs. I would kiss you but for the absinthe on your breath.
Next week will be June and you'll have run away already. Cicadas will buzz. People will tell lies about you as they always do, but I'll know what happened. You'll steal some money off a drunk man and hitchhike back to Priapia. You'll braid your hair at night and untie the plaits in the morning so that they'll fall in long, wavy tresses. And when some young man with a full, dark beard and an arrogant mannerism takes advantage of you in the back of a stagecoach, you won't say a word. Maybe you'll enjoy it.
After I saw you yesterday evening, I stole back into the woods and picked up an injured mockingbird. I let it bite me when I stroked its silken throat. I let it nibble at a few kernels of dried corn in my pocket and it didn't even cry out when I shot it behind the barn. You would say, Don't be cruel, and I would say, But it was dying anyways and you would say, All of us are dying, Moritz. My darling.
My god. Don't call me that. Not after I shot an injured mockingbird with just one bullet. Afterwards, I touched the hot mouth of the gun and let my fingers burn a little, the way Melchior would always touch the flame of a candle until his reflexes got the better of him. His reasoning: there is a candle, and a flame, therefore they must be touched. You would squeeze the hot wax into a lumpy little heart but Melchior always went straight for the flame. He's like that.
I'm carrying a book of matchsticks in my pocket tonight, alongside my letter and handkerchief and gun. If you'd like to light a cigarette, one of the slim ones for women, I might strike a match for you and hold it to the tip of the cigarette until it glows orange. Perhaps I'll linger a little, so as to hear you cough and giggle and see the glimmer of light on your irises. Spring and summer, you'd say, those are the best times to smoke as the embers will attract fireflies and boys. But don't you dare touch my collar with a single finger or run your thumb over my bottom lip as you think I'd have you do. Don't come near me, Ilse.
Don't even let me light your cigarette.
I'm not right tonight. I'm all wrong and things might happen—I won't say what things or how, as I don't know at all—but I'm not right and I don't want to strike you, or set sparks loose upon your long hair. Stay away from me. You don't know how it is now and you can't know.
Run back to Priapia and climb into someone else's bed in those shirttails and those braids. Fall asleep, fall in love. Just go.
You think I can't know. As if I've never touched the hot mouth of a gun, or let myself be bitten on the fingers, the throat, the breast. But afterwards, I count the bite marks and kick the drawers shut and lie down nude on the sofa to pose for a young man or an old man who sucks the excess oil off his brushes and leaves a yellow stain on his teeth. Then he kisses me with his yellow teeth and hands me a few marks. His breath smells like turpentine.
I remember when you used to make little hats for us out of newsprint and white glue. We put charcoal around our eyes and dirt on our faces so that we might play pirates in the heaping snow. Walk the plank! It was a rotting log, formerly an old fence post. Wendla picked up fistfuls of snow and let it dissolve into water on her tongue. Her lips would turn blue. And in the dark of the shed, you and I held hand hands and sat on my father's plough, our fingers shyly probing the rust instead of each other. It was so cold, so warm. Later on, the charcoal would run lines down your face, dripping from tears and the melting snowflakes on each eyelash.
I know you and your sadness and your cold hands. You always like to hold something; a slate, a bag, a cup, a gun. Don't run away. Why don't you hold these flowers—careful with the petals now, they're limp—while I kiss you on the mouth. Your teeth are white. I will kiss them too and you won't call me your muse or your gem or your peach, for once. You'll just call me Ilse.
One night at least. We won't be lost in this starlight. And we won't be found.
Just go away, my god, go! I don't need sparks and sweat and you. Your hair, your song, your contralto. Your spring and summer and everything you want from me. I can't, you know. I can't go with you. Just let me be.
I knew you wouldn't stay. No one ever does.