by Caroline Bird

She was eighteen, used ‘party’ as a verb, lashes
like the whiskers of an oil-soaked seal, devoured
books with names like Steamy L A Nights under
the duvet by flashlight. I was twenty-three, brooding
over John Ashbery between therapy sessions, hunched

at the smokers table like a misunderstood genius.
I was recovering from a bout of ‘goodbye world’.
We were both diligent pleasers. I fell in love
with the reflection of someone charming in her
sunglasses. I always wanted to be charming.

I forgot we were ill. When I finally touched her,
her skin dilated. She shuddered, licked her teeth
and crawled towards me across the bed.
It was like watching a child possessed
by the vengeful spirit of a murdered porn star.

I locked myself in the bathroom and then strode
to the nurse’s station to ‘confess’. Afterwards
my counsellor said, ‘We really dropped the ball
on this one, placing a sex addict in a room
with a lesbian.’ It’d never occurred to them.

She wrote me a ten-page love letter in red ink.
The nurses tried to lull my guilt: ‘If an alcoholic
screams for a whiskey, it’s not the bartender’s fault
if he pours.’ I didn’t like being compared to booze,
like I could’ve been anyone – that acne-scarred chef

who grinned at her once, the mouthy car-washer
at the NA meeting, the pin-eyed new boy – like it was
just because I was her roomie and she was a nympho
and nothing to do with real electricity or Stephanie
somehow spying the part worth saving in me.