by Sarah Marie Kosch

She never sleeps well when she stays with him, but here she is again. The blanket is pulled around her, and everything has stilled except for the whoosh of cars outside and the intermittent hum of the apartment. Night drapes like a well-worn robe, soft and matted, molding to curves and ridges and chair backs heaped with wrinkled shirts. She picks it apart—dresser, nightstand, pillow, head—grounding herself within the picture as she shifts again, watches for movement, far too conscious that it is the fifth time she has turned. Her teeth are clenched against the restless thrum in her calves, angry at their sleeplessness, every movement so aware. It is the fifth turn, the fifth splitting fault line through the mattress, skin on sheets, dipping, slipping, sighing.

He stirs, brushes a hand down her arm, and mumbles something warm and sleepy: words or parts of words, or fractions of dreams. She turns back to the wall, glad that at least this moment is free of worry. He’s already been bothered so what’s a little more?

Sliding one leg out from under the blanket, she stretches out against the wall, feeling the cool dryness of the plaster and burrowing deeper into the pillow, breathing deep. Her body sinks into the mattress with the exhale. Her brain quiets, nestling in comfortable emptiness. Somewhere in the background, outlines are blurring and diving off under the pier.

“I’m thinking of a number between one and a hundred,” he says, and her body jolts like she missed a stair. “Guess.” He curls around her. “If you get it right, it means we’ll be together forever.”

Forever? She watches it like a star exploding on the insides of her eyelids. The sudden rush, a dark nebula, bits of stars and translucent dust. Flakes of ghosts. Forever. The universe, heaven, blank never-ending clouds rolling on loop. It is an exhausting thought. She is suddenly so heavy; she is certain she will never move again. She can’t. Leave me alone. Pretend I’m not here.

“What do you think it is?” He burrows against her, solid and soft, naked and warm, and irritating as a hangnail. This is not the time for games. This is not the time for forever. What does she think it is? An elbow to the ribs if she had the strength. But she’s too tired now, eternity weighing her down, numbers flicking and fluttering. Seventeen’s and seventy-two’s. Shutter click fast-forward movie credits. Steel wire stars. Cold, metal address plates Gorilla Glued on brick.

“Thirty-eight,” she guesses, moving both legs under the covers.

He squeezes her waist, kisses her neck. The quiet resettles. She opens her eyes.

“Did I get it?”

“Close enough,” he says, and she’s wide-awake again, feeling his breath on her neck, imagining all the places she might go.

Sarah Marie Kosch lives in Iowa City and is an editor for Anomalous Press. Her work has appeared in BlazeVOX, Blinders Journal, Paper Tape Magazine and elsewhere.