You tell me that the necks warp over time. They swell up and twist, as any wood does, when the humidity changes.
I think of my hair and how it curls in the summer. How limp it is in the winter. How water can make us look different. How much I’ve changed since I met you.
I try to focus on what you’re saying.
You are running your hand along the guitar, showing me places the neck is crooked. “There’s a truss rod inside the necks of newer guitars. It helps keep the structure over time.” You’re talking but I’m not really listening. I’m watching the way your fingers trace along the strings, smooth and sure. The way your eyes look down the length of the guitar, finding flaws I can’t see.
“It looks straight to me,” I tell you.
“Look closer,” you say.
The Dairy Queen is across the street from the slaughterhouse, and we sit on the circular plastic table near the parking lot. I want your feet to bump into mine, but they’re tucked underneath you.
We could always tell when it was a slaughter day. The air smells thick and tinny, like dirt and rot. It clings to clothes, to the interior of cars. I fan my sundress around my legs, stirring the air and bringing a waft of decay to my nose. We are used to the smell.
“Do you think they know?” I ask you. You are eating a vanilla cone. It’s August in southern Ohio, and your cone is melting faster than you can lick.
I want to take one of your sticky fingers into my mouth and taste the vanilla.
“The pigs? I don’t know, maybe. They were bred for this.”
It is getting dark and the cicadas’ screams are slowing to a rattle. The night creatures would start their chorus soon, filling our silences.
You always use scented plug ins, so your apartment smells like pine.
It’s a tiny apartment, but you are so meticulous it feels larger. The sink is clean and your bed is always made.
“Do you even live here?” I ask you, looking at the neatly stacked books on the bedside table.
You don’t laugh. “Of course I do. I just like my things where they belong. Each thing in the proper place.”
“I try to be clean,” I say.
You pull me into a hug. “I like you clean or dirty. I just like you.”
Something inside me uncurls, melting under my skin.
We live in farmlands but don’t know any farmers. Our town is flat and long, pocketed with warehouses and chain food restaurants. It is all changing: stretches of cornfields churned up and turned into modular homes with a man-made lake in the center, an outlet mall replacing the burned out Chevy factory.
The newness should be ugly, but it isn’t. Our town feels alive, a pulse throbbing below its shell.
“We shouldn’t come here on slaughter days,” I say. “It feels wrong.”
“Maybe not. But where else would we go?”
You hand me a napkin so I can clean my hands.
I stay over so often now the apartment feels a bit mine, though you’ve never asked me to share it. I keep a spare toothbrush in your cabinet, some underwear in your drawer. I only leave the pretty kind -- black lace, polka dots.
I tuck these bits of me away into corners and behind closet doors.
You pick up my wine glass before I’ve had the last sip, wiping down the coaster and table underneath it. You make the bed before I’ve finished brushing my teeth.
“I’m trying,” I tell you.
“I know,” you say.
We walk along 2nd Street, one of the few older streets in town. There are large retro lightbulbs hung in strings along the street.
I can still smell the slaughterhouse, but it’s fainter now. Just a hint amongst the smell of heat and my own sweat.
I want you to stop me under the lights. I want you to hold my face in your hands and lean in and kiss me. I want it to be sweet and taste like ice cream and a hard day.
But you take my hand and pull it towards your mouth, and that is enough for me.
You keep your Christmas lights up all year. You tell me colorful lights shouldn’t be seasonal, and I don’t disagree. You turn them on after dinner, and they light up your living room in a dim hazy glow.
You take out your guitar and I marvel at your arms as you sling the strap over your back. You have tattoos you don’t talk about, and they stand out stark against the wood of the guitar.
Your fingers move fluidly and you close your eyes to sing. I don’t bother singing along; I don’t want to ruin your song.
The guitar glitters in the lights and your cheeks are red and blue. You look flushed and I want to trace the circles of color along your cheeks.
After the fifth song I reach forward and take your hand as you finger the strings. We grip the neck of the guitar together as I pull you towards my chest.
You walk me to my apartment door. It’s only a few blocks away from yours, and I wish you’d asked me over. You kiss me goodnight and turn to go, but I don’t want to say goodbye.
I ask you to wait with me, just wait, because I’m not ready to go inside.
My air conditioning is too strong and it’s too bright and too quiet inside on my own.
You put your arm around my shoulder and we lean against the brick of my building. My street is plain: a few townhouses, a few cars parked on the road. There is evidence of people everywhere, but we are alone.
We look up at the stars together, and I search for something to say to make this moment feel right, important. I want to ignore this twist inside of me, this spiral of doubt that threatens to uncurl.
“You’re woven into me, you know,” I say, and it sounds false in my own ears.
You give me a strained smile and pull me closer.
I take in the weight of your arm, the feel of your fingertips across my shoulders, the rusty rich smell of slaughter that still haunts us. When you turn to go, I wonder the same thing I always do when you leave me: was this already over? Would I even know if it was?