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Spencer Dew

Her breath is a thing I miss, to begin with, acknowledging that it's a cliché but insistent that this is the nature of clichés, their value, to convey some simple truth, so constant, so assured, that to state it seems unnecessary, even dumb. So her breath, its absence, my longing for it in the night, for the pattern as much as the presence ­ this is the first thing, the root. Sometimes I'm afraid I'll forget how to breathe, no pace to follow, and I'm overcome with memories of all those nights I'd wake, worried over something, and hear her sleeping there. I think of the womb, in general, the cliché of the womb, then her womb, in particular, its smells and tastes, then my mother's womb, which segues, in jagged fashion, back to the cliché, the earth mother that swallows us all up. I scrub my boots, then soak them in boiling water laced with bleach, then scrub them again, then take them out back and put them under the grill, just the boots and some newspaper and five charcoals and a bottle's worth of lighter fluid. There is a smell of rubber, which I mask by burning garlic cloves as well. Magic is a cliché, too, a repetitious play with basic, blatant traits, sympathy and inverse form. Five coals for five blows. The rubber-garlic scent makes me cough until I almost vomit, but the boots are pretty much gone.

Next there is touch. I could be walking down a grocery aisle of greeting cards, but it is true like bone fragments are true, shining white in the still quivery red ­ I miss the feel of her, both her body and the warmth it radiated. Even if I woke and my hand weren't on her, even if I woke and she wasn't pressed against some part of me, even then she was there, her heat, spreading under the sheets, across the air.

Smell, mentioned less in miss-you cards, is next, especially the smell of her hair, cigarettes and sex, to use two more clichés, but they were both there, toasted tobacco and a stale cunt scent. The top of her head fit just under my chin, and she would stand and hug me, arms around me, breasts against me, lungs, veins, and tendons. When I think about it, I find myself sinking all the way through, throat to spine, missing every measure, each molecule, ounce, cell. At a certain point, it doesn't matter how I say it, it's still a slippery and assured slope straight down the cliché.

Mornings come, and then, after a few hours of the sun, rising, steady, and the sky going from red to blue to white, in stages, after all that, awake, and after a glass of water to try to wash some part of it away, only then can I sleep, an hour at most, and after that I have no choice but go on through my days, blurred and distracted, memories of her dangling from the edges of everything, her hair in the least expected places, tangled with the silverware, hanging from a doorjamb, caught in the teeth of my zipper. I remove a mug from the cupboard, and there is a stain from her lipstick, her lips. At the laundry, folding my dry clothes, I find a shirt of hers, small and familiar, and imagine it filled, pressing against me. I hold it, warm from the machine, against my face. Later, it and I become more intimate, and I collect in it the hairs I've gathered, pasting them there with my own adhesive, calling the resulting construction by her name, whispering to it, kissing along its edges. It provides a presence in the bed, a constant comfort with no will to resist, but it is not the same.

The magical object lacks, by definition, any self-reflexive sense. The fetish is a cliché of form, and thus resists clichés in description. She, on the other hand, whom I can only remember in worn tropes, in an over-kneaded putty of truisms, she with her breath and noise and heat and struggle, she was like a metaphor that twisted and kicked, utterly unpredictable, full of lies and screams, quick fakes to the door so she could double back, her sock feet slipping on the linoleum, for the block of kitchen knives.

I get tired of the wad of cloth her shirt has now become, tired of its mushroom musk, which seems to follow me around. After a full month of mourning, I am, as the songs say, broken inside, but resolved to be flatly sad, without concern for the phrases used. I take comfort in a ritual of the cliché. Breaking an earlier pragmatic vow for purely sentimental reasons, I drive to the creek bed, bury the rag beside her.


Spencer Dew's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Cautionary Tale, Diagram, Pindeldyboz, Sexy Stranger, and Word Riot. He studies midrashic conceptions of language, textuality, and identity as well as engaging in sporadic menial office activities such as photocopying, collating, and reloading automatic stapling machines.

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