Except

A love poem of longing, inspired by [x].

A box of sand from Monterey.

A handful of leaves from Japan, ground to pieces at the bottom of an envelope marked fragile.

A half-dozen rubber balls from god knows where New Mexico, bound together with magenta duct tape. There’s a vague attempt at a smiley face, but the thing looks like a head with boils.

He doesn’t bother taking that one inside.

Four coins dug from a fountain in Rome—that’s what the post-it note says, anyway, the note with the smeared ink that’s dried in rivers on pink and bled through the hotel stationary.

A packed of smashed biscuits from London. Ginger, his favorite.

He eats those on the way back from the mailbox, stuffs the red and black wrap in his jeans, and no one inside is the wiser.
(There are crumbs on his shirt, but he doesn’t notice.
Doesn’t see that she does.)

A mutated snow globe from New York, a cheap knockoff that doesn’t get the skyline right. The Empire State is leaning and the Statue of Liberty’s torch is stuck to the ocean.

All around them, though, it still snows.

Rose petals from Amsterdam, still damp with rain, the kind that falls from his eyes.

He almost misses the joint tucked just inside the lid. Almost.

The weed is sweet and so small that he barely feels it, the lilac cloud in his head.

He smokes it under the deck while she’s out.
It’s the wrong kind of hot down there.
He burns his fingers and licks the sting away with his tongue, listening hard for a sound that’s not coming, waits for hand on his shoulder that’s long gone.

All of it’s vanished. Except for this:

A fountain pen from Des Moines.

A pocket knife from Atlanta.

Small things. All easy to hide.

A diner menu from Houston.

A snakeskin from Dallas.

A rusted key from somewhere in Arizona. No return address.

He shouldn’t keep any of these things. They’re a laundry list from a junk drawer. None of it means anything.

His pockets start to overflow with all the things he shouldn’t keep.

He holds on to too much. Always has. Except the one thing that matters.

Except—

A shoebox full of paper. It takes him a moment to see that it’s hearts. Pink and blue and green, cut determined from construction paper. Purple and black and red.

What were hearts, once. Ripped in two.

He spills them over the counter and cries until he can’t anymore. Until she’ll be home in ten minutes. Until his eyes are coming up dry.

He fills his hands with what’s left of his love and buries it all in the garbage.

Except one, one jagged blue piece that goes deep in his pocket. It ends up next to the knife.

He goes on with his life.

He leaves his wife.

It isn’t pretty.

The mailbox at his new place is red, half paint, half rust.

He buys good beer and better cigarettes and spends too much time watching the box.

Waiting.

Nothing.

He finds the last return address and buys a postcard, one of the cheap ones from the drugstore that say Welcome to LA.

He tapes the heart on one side, writes his new address on the other. At the last moment he adds Please come home and shoves it in the blue box on the corner before he can think better.

Then, there’s this:

A shark’s tooth he buys at a yard sale.

A polaroid he finds on the sidewalk of somebody’s grandma, faded and waving from decades before.

Dried jasmine from the farmer’s market.

A handful of cheap bubble gum.

A box of gunmetal tea, the kind that he swore he could taste just from the heavy black smell, the one that used to wake him up on weekends when he’d feel soggy headed and sore and happy. God, so fucking happy, with that burned metal taste in his teeth when Misha came back to bed.

The tea, it always got cold.

A roll of stamps, the forever kind. The ones that never go bad.

An I Voted sticker.

A set of keys to his new place.

A half pack of cigs, after he quits.

He writes a letter one night when he shouldn’t, when he’s been on set for twelve hours and he’s so tired he can’t see straight. Picks up a pen, one from the bank, and lays out all the things he shouldn’t have kept, all the things he should have given away.

you were right. i do love you.
it made me sick for a long time
not you
never you
me
how much i wanted to keep it all for myself
how i felt
how much i love
you
i’m glad you left
i hate that you did
if you get this, please
please. come back to me.

He signs his name hard, so there won’t be any question. Writes the return address on the front and the back, so there’s no question of it getting lost.

A half-eaten pencil.

Some Canadian quarters.

Another six months of his life, all into the shoebox they go.

Waiting.

One day, there’s a blue heart taped to his mailbox.

A green one on the front steps.

A pink one stuck to the door.

An orange one that falls off Misha’s forehead when he slides off the porch swing.

There’s a backpack by the front door and Misha’s shoes are muddy as shit where they sit right next to the doormat.

“I brought you something,” Misha says. “I think this is yours.”

The blue halfheart is faded, barely clinging to the postcard, but it’s still there. And that’s enough.

He hides his face in Misha’s neck and lets wet rose petals fall.

In bed, he presses Misha into the sheets and says: “These are for you.”

The teeth on Misha’s ear, they’re from Boston.

A kiss down each rib, from Taipei.

Two hands in his hair as they fuck. Dublin, the left. And Chicago, his right.

“Everywhere you’ve been,” he says, watching Misha’s face break. “Baby. Everywhere. I wish that I’d been there, too.”

Misha’s fingers on his jaw. In his mouth, the moment he comes, thumb smoothing over his smile.

It takes a long time to get back, to plant a flag in the place that they were. To move above, in time. Then beyond.

It takes seashells from the North Shore.

A stuffed monkey from Portland that he forgets on the plane.

A bucket of sidewalk chalk Misha steals from the neighbors.

A kitchen table that cracks at just the wrong moment.

A couple of fights and acres of kissing.

All of it spilled out in the open, caution tossed over the side. Too big for a shoebox, besides.

There’s nothing left for his fists to hold on to, except the one that matters.

Except.

A pair of blue eyes that cross when they’re angry.

A shock of dark hair that never lies flat.

A tongue that never trips over love.

And two hands that hold him right back.

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