You press so close I can feel your heart against my back; your fears swarm like bats,
Hiding in the rafters, nesting in the spectral shadows of the cathedral ceiling. But here is my sword,
An ancestral relic, and there is your fine china, each perfect ivory demitasse ready for high tea.
Here are the treasures I regaled you with, and in their presence your breathing slows, your skin
Flushing a glowing pink; my mother has underestimated how forbiddance can be a serenade,
A siren song even fear cannot withstand. We tiptoe across creaking floorboards; every sound carries
In this old house, I warn; but we cannot contain ourselves. At eleven years old, we are carried
Away, rapturous at staying up so late, entranced with the thrill of breaking rules. Like bats,
Our nightgowns flutter with each scurrulous movement; and for a few minutes we are a serenade
Of shushing, of banged knees and sqeaking hinges, appreciative oohs and ahhs. The sword
Is rusting at the hilt, the only left of my grandfather’s collection; we take turns pressing blade to skin
And wondering what it would feel like to die until you falter, afraid, and I humor you, sipping pretend tea
From my grandmother’s bone and ivory cups — it is a habit, curiously enough, that I’ve carried
To this day, finding no comfort in cups of coffee, but solace in the bitter dregs of a cup of tea.
Years later, of course, we – self-indulgent in our Gothic phase – would hang like overgrown bats
Out the attic window, cigarettes dangling from our lips. That summer, I was entranced by your skin,
And more so, by my longing to touch it; suddenly, your body was a discordant note in a serenade,
And I was playing a game so much more intriguing and frightening than playing with swords.
You confided everything in me; we grew up “like sisters,” you’d say, the words a double-edged sword
That both thrilled and gutted me. Those nights, in my heart, in the visceral depths of me, I carried
Such an over-whelming desire to press my fingers to your skin, to make you gasp and moan a serenade,
Just for me, an audience of one. Years later, in our final summer before we parted ways, we sipped tea,
Real tea this time, from my grandmother’s cups, our sweat-dampened clothing clinging to our skin
As we sorted through my mother’s old boxes, rummaging not for anything in particular, when you batted
Away a flurry of moths, and your face lit up. From the old cedar chest, you pull her wedding dress, batting
Your eyes coquettishly as you gushed over the vintage lace, the eyelet hooks on the bodice rusted sharp as swords,
Dangerous as they were dainty. This is what you’d dreamed of since childhood, you said, the pallor of your skin
Jaunidicing the off-white brocade; this kind of vintage elegance, the kind of storybook beauty that carried
Your imagination away since before you could talk. I should have known; your world had always been tea parties
And grand balls, princes who would whisk you away, even in our darker days. In that moment, the serenade
Of hope I’d held on to became a sneering chorus of, “How stupid could you be?” as you hummed, serenading
Yourself, only half-ironically, with “Once Upon a Dream,” as you held the dress to you, the cathedral train batting
against your ankles as you waltzed alone. You laughed, thinking, perhaps, that this was one last ode to our tea parties,
To our fluttering nightgowns and late-night treasure hunts, but I knew that this was the last swing of the sword
That would part us forever. When we left for college, I promised to keep in touch, promised to carry
Our friendship into adulthood – but the hurt was too much, sharper than the press of a sword to skin.
I’ve heard you are a married woman now, and a mother; I imagine you serenading your children with lullabies,
Staging elaborate tea parties with them, rocking them to sleep after nightmares, carried tight against you. I wonder
If you think of me, memories fluttering like bats in the attic of your mind; the glint of a sword, a warm press of skin, and a girl who loved you.