Warm water scalds. Cold sits ice in my fingertips. No one knows what I am talking about. Someone must have busted the office faucets. The ones at my house too. In the morning, I cannot feel my toes.
The microscope reveals galaxies, parallel worlds, where I am flexible or effervescent, but the doctors cannot explain my nerves. I cannot walk without a cane or work my fingers well enough to button up a flannel. I cry with my shirt open. CTs. MRIs. Inconclusive.
Almond butter. Brushstroke storms in oil paintings. My tongue works. My eyes know what to do. I drive far enough into the Cascades to find constellations. To hoard what I can still feel. The trails of animal noises. The magic of light breaking through all that ink.
The fire must start while I am sleeping. The embers at my feet or the cigarette butts by the car. Thankfully I can still smell smoke. Cough it up. There isn’t water close or enough beer. I try to use my flannel, the rubber foot of my cane, but it spreads.
I take pictures. Selfies. My dead hands can still hold my phone. I use portrait mode to blur the trees lined behind the flames. I crouch low to make the red tongues loom. How many blazes have been filmed from the beginning?
As the trees cut the sun, hikers find my handiwork. They stomp with the nerves I no longer have. Look at me like the alien I fear I am. “What in the hell are you doing?” one man asks. I can tell he has never worried about losing all of his feeling.
So many sensations are now in the rearview: hiking up the dunes, cutting across a damp field, digging one fingernail under another, slapping in those old Adidas slides with all of the bumps, opening a twist off beer, taking the temperature of the bath with my fingers, writing ls and vs in water on someone’s back, digging my toes into the carpet, jumping upstairs, climbing stairs at all, reaching the hot chocolate packets on my tiptoes, embracing the burn through the ceramic mug, warming my feet by a gas fireplace. The numbness reaches my elbows, my shins. I drive back into the city to capture a few more fires.
The fire of a hot coffee and a burnt tongue. The fire at the end of a syrupy new strain. I charge the most expensive meals—gold flake, rare truffles—and get a tattoo of a storm on my chest, where the ache is insistent. I swim. I float. I steal any overheard conversation—break-ups in bars, complaints in elevators, schemes and sex through vents. Any condo complex I can sneak in, I do and strip on their foyer couches and lick their scented candles. I steal watches, earrings, leather briefcases, rare sneakers, because no look across a counter is hot enough.
For a few days, before the numbness starts in on my lungs, everything is sweet. Blooms underfoot. Blooms worn out by the weather. Still fat in color. Still soft against my cheeks. I burn a dumpster. I burn my car. Doctors admit and vent me. The shapes of the monitors are buttery. I look up close.
Tubes down my shirt. Up and down my arms. The antibody injections make my whole body hum with static.
Regret is a back pocket curse, damp fog in kitchens and bedrooms. Regret is a tender calf. Pulled. Pulled again. Regret is traffic in every direction, new flights of stairs, another activation fee.
One day we will taste with a mallet. Smell nothing. Try to tune out the rising room tone and touch with our crooked claws. We will only have what we can conjure inside, regret like a pin shower, wet paper, mold spreading every time we look away.
I will walk on water and tie my own shoes. I will get discharged and volunteer to firefight and shower without bars. Aches will cloud my legs. Sparks will haunt my muscles—can the numbness come back?
I will sculpt Andromeda and jump from one roof to another to another to another. My body won’t forget, and I will learn to stand tall where the undertow is strongest.
TJ Fuller writes and teaches in Portland, Oregon. His writing has appeared in Juked, Volume 1 Brooklyn, Hobart, and elsewhere. Find him on Twitter here.
Celeste Voce lives and works in Los Angeles. She works mostly in analog photography and photographic-based media. She has shown with AWHRHWAR, O’ Project Space, James Wright Gallery, and Monte Vista Projects.