They were reading again. They were reading, and they were waiting. Waiting by the lake. “Lacuna” they read aloud, “Latin for a missing book, or a cavity in bone.” They had stuffed a red ribbon in their book as a marker. She had given it to them. She had given them the ribbon in her hair. They touched the ribbon. The ribbon had two sides. The silky side and the rough side. They felt both sides between their fingers as they read. They felt both as they waited.
They thought about the color red. When blood reaches the surface of the skin, reaches oxygen, it turns red. Red is the color at the end of the visible spectrum of light. It is next to orange and opposite violet. It is a primary color. Found among the colors of prehistoric art, in ocher. The Mayans colored their faces with it for ceremonies, and the Romans used it to celebrate victories. Red was in pottery in the walls of palaces in China. It was in costumes of the Renaissance worn by nobles, dyed with kermes and cochineal. In Russia it became the color of revolution, and later in China, and Vietnam. They remembered a story from their childhood about a girl who refused to take off a red ribbon from her neck, or else she would lose her head. They couldn’t remember the name of the story, but they remembered her refusal. “Red is the color of sacrifice, danger, courage, heat, activity, passion, sex, anger, love and joy…” they mused. And so too now was the ribbon from her hair, red.
Their eyes kept wandering off to the sparkling in the lake. The sun on the surface resembled fire. They felt it flicker in their eye. A piece of glitter. They felt the wind. A pigeon came to their feet as they were reading. Its eyes were red like the ribbon. Two eyes. Head bobbing as it walked. A shark moving forward. “Was our love like a shark moving forward?” they thought. The bird inched closer. They carried seeds in their pocket for just this occasion, when a bird might fly to their feet. As the seeds came down, the bird circled. Shocked each time more rained down. They wanted the bird’s trust. They knew they could never have it. So, they wanted it more. The seeds rained down. Bouncing as they hit the cement. The bird hopped to each with swift conviction. There was a savage hunger that looked familiar to them. Gnawing first at the shell. Breaking it. The hungry thing broke the thing it ate. It was alone too. “Funny” they thought. They continued to wait.
Looking back at the pool, they saw two large swans in the distance. One swan approached the other from behind. Reaching with its long neck clamping down, plunging its partners face into the sparking water. Their love making was the illusion of drowning, of being drowned. One swan disappeared, while one remained. They floated stacked, until they broke apart in perfect unison. Looking like the letter ‘W’, the crook of each neck mirrored the other as they pressed their heads together. Each head had a shiny round preening gland that secreted an oil. “Funny”, they thought. They imagined the force of the swan on top of them. They imagined being pressed into a million pieces, into the water. “Was our love like this?” they wondered. “Perhaps, I only belong to my book?” they sighed. “Perhaps, if I admit I may never find what I am looking for…if I admit that, I can at least be free from this waiting?”
They sat on the pier looking out at the swans which were suddenly being pulled by the wind toward the horizon. Sailing together until disappearing into a vacuous nothingness. They looked at the red ribbon in their hands. They wanted to remember her. Wanted to remember what she smelled like that day. They placed the ribbon to their face and sniffed. They wanted to remember the way she made them feel. “How did I feel? It seems like such a long time ago…only a year? No, maybe more. It seems like more when she’s away. Is she even real, or did I imagine her in a dream? Is she just someone I am telling myself exists? Is she just me?”
Time seemed to move differently in her absence. There was a lag to everything they did. It was as if time were moving slowly on purpose, as a joke or simply out of spite. Of course, they knew this wasn’t true. It just felt true. They questioned whether time was real in the first place. Their love made them question time. It was okay to question time. Time had a brutality to it. “We should always question the brutal things in our lives…” they thought.
All I have is this ribbon in my hands. They thought of all the ribbons in the world. The typewriter ribbon came to mind. They remembered their mother telling them about having to change the ribbon when the ink ran out. There was limited ink. The typewriter was destined for this repetition, to be changed. Its purpose, dependent on the economy of the ribbon. On what the ribbon could stand. The writing of the typist, also depended on the ribbon too. This all determined the rhythm of the machine. “Yes, a machinic rhythm…” they thought. “Is our love like a machinic rhythm?” They imagined typing a love letter to her on a typewriter running out of ink. How each letter would fade as the body of the text grew, until there was no more ink. Until there was nothing but the action of pressing the key to the page. Until the writing could no longer be.
The wind blew stronger as dusk grew nearer. They looked out to the horizon. All at once the red ribbon flew from their hand, blowing onto the cement where the pigeon once ate. With great intensity they went after the ribbon. Chasing it as it flew by the breath of the wind. With each step it seemed to evade their grasp. “Is chasing, also a kind of waiting?” They wondered as they ran. “Why should I chase at all?” They thought about what their running meant. “Why am I running after this ribbon? If I am running towards the ribbon, what am I running away from? To run after something is to show that you need it.” They felt hungry. They felt the saliva falling from their mouth. They felt like an animal, when they ran. Just as the ribbon was about to blow into the water, they caught it with two fingers, it by its tip. Looking up slightly out of breath, they saw a figure on a bike overlooking the pier in the distance. It resembled her. “It can’t be…” The sun was setting behind the figure, blackening it so that only the silhouette was visible. It looked like her. They squinted and tilted their head at the back-lit image. The moment they started towards it, the figure immediately took off, as if it too had been blown by the wind. They could never make-out if the figure was really her. They looked down at the ribbon, which had started to unravel slightly where they had caught it. “Funny” they thought. And they continued to wait.
jess saldaña (Chicago, 1991) is a chicanx/marrano/queer/crip activist, artist, and scholar interested in interdependency within everyday systems and social relations. Trained as a musical composer their poetry, fiction, book reviews, photographs, paintings, and drawings have been featured in the following; Hoochi Media (2018), Stonewall’s Legacy: Poetry Anthology (2019), Entropy Magazine (2019), LAMBDA Lit (2021), among others. They currently reside in Brooklyn amidst a clickety-clackety keyboard piano, piles of books, and their tuxedo cat Dr. Bear. You can see more work and contact them @ jesssaldana.com
featured photo “Some say a swan can die of a broken heart,” 2021 35mm analog Black and White by jess saldaña