I was born in a bathtub underwater. No one has ever loved someone he saved from drowning. Our mother was a thin ghost bred of the ash at the pit of a cob pipe and we found you crying in the bottom of a deep gravel quarry in a fire burning. No one has ever loved someone in a fire burning and not ever has anyone loved someone, we've learned. For years we'd searched for the smell of it like steam in the bottoms of jars or in the morning grass, but grew content to sleep in the still terror of knowing something new of the world.
“We've learned enough,” we'd say.
You wanted to be an actress and carved the word in the webbing between your middle and index fingers with the head of a sewing needle. Thirteen—I drank the blood. We kissed to the fractured and distant applause of our mother beating the dust from the laundry line. You stood to take your bows. That night we found the glass of a flower vase tangled deep within your hair and you promised your life to a performance of a young woman growing treacherously old, clutching a dream of being loved and passionate between her fingers.
We grew together as orphans, coming to understand the nature of the world in observing the strange and dark colors of dawn—in wonder of times when there was a sky and others when there wasn't any.
We made love in singular thrusts spread hourly over the course of a month, falling asleep entwined and penetrated. On the thirtieth day you moaned an imperceptible frequency the exact pace of your lowering yourself into the bath and this was the manner in which I loved you, I said. In days, without a voice and still moaning, you wrote in a breath spread across the window:
“This is joy and may it be forever.”
You had me set a fire to char the kettle empty, standing stiffened in the far corner. The air inside it turned to smoke and nested in the rafters and together we grew hot and starving, the bones of our fingers rattling against each other the sound of wanting.
Our mother dead and we learned of your inability to harbor a child. I pressed my hand against you, thanking God in whispers while forever you exhaled a great bellow of warmly scented dust.
Tired, you tapped the glass at the birds, watching it crack into long and black spiderwebs in a trance or a kind of meditation you hadn't known yourself capable of. Small pieces broke into the sink and broke again, bursting into pinpricks of sunlight in an arrangement which could have meant something only to you—and you promising yourself to remember it always. Later you thought of digging a hole to bury it, bleeding into the meadow brush and again picking the glass from your hair.
You bore blood into the floorboards. We left it to scab black and high in the wood grain, for time to spread to dust.
You pinched between your fingers, walking the house in the pattern of fruit gnats and wandering spirits, your face sharp and soaked tar black—profound with an understanding of growing older. You bit your lip at the door off its hinges and the ivy vines pulling back the frame and wanted to know where something had gone that had never been there.
“Life is both violent and dull,” you said.
You were white with bathwater and rage and I poured a kettle over you. There was a fly dead in the water, touching your breast in a rhythm and our home had grown dark with the deaths of too many things.
“Life is violent,” you said, “terrifying and rapid.”
I poured the kettle again and you sank to meet the fly.
“I was born in a bathtub underwater,” I said, “and you, in a fire burning.”
You were a still fury and steam, then swallowed the fly and sank again. You sank and kept sinking down until you were the bottom of things. You sank and you were the bottom of things born in a fire burning—born in a bathtub underwater and born in a fire burning. I was myself and poured the kettle and you were the bottom of things born in a fire burning.
“No one has ever loved someone he saved from drowning,” I said.
Peter Ho Davies