The Poison

by Lily Morningstar

The thick canopy of mango trees overhead blocked out the light of the waning Gibbous moon and I could hear the dry leaves crunch beneath my sandaled feet as we made our way down the crumbling gravel path toward the sound of waves crashing onto hard packed sand. I hurried, imagining giant centipedes coiled, sleeping beneath the leaves, plump with venom, the thought of their hard exoskeletons and many legs made me sick with fear and I wished I'd worn sneakers.

"Damnit," Graeme said from behind me as I heard him sliding on the gravel. He clutched my hand more tightly, I laughed, "We're almost there," and I dragged him recklessly through the darkness.

"You should've grabbed a flashlight," Graeme grumbled.

"I don't have one," I said and then shrieked and laughed as I slipped on an unstable patch of gravel and mango leaves and nearly took us both down.

Graeme laughed and said, "One of these days you're gonna get us both killed."

"I know where we're going," I muttered, "I've done this a million times." A moment later we burst through the foliage and onto the moonlit sand.

I spread an old, thin blanket out on the ground and began to take off my clothes. "Let's go swimming," I said when Graeme sat down and began to uncork a bottle of Rioja.

"I'm cold," he said, "Aren't you?" You have no idea, I thought.

"Come on," I said, "You only live once," and I peeled off my thong and threw it in his face and then I turned and ran toward the water and dove into the phosphorescent waves.

I swam out, diving under the bright foamy whitecaps until I could no longer see Graeme's moonlit silhouette sulking on the beach. I knew he wouldn't follow me in but I liked knowing he was there, safe and stable on the beach, waiting for me. I floated on my back for a long time, looking at the far off moon hovering above the crater of the volcano and letting the soft foamy waves wash over my naked body and then I turned and swam back.

Graeme met me in the shore break with a plastic cup full of wine.

"Did you think I was dead?" I asked as I took a sip, my chattering teeth clacking against the plastic.

"No," he said and kissed my cold lips.

He took my hand and led me back to the blanket. I lay down and looked up at the sky and Graeme got on top of me and wrapped his arms around me and licked the salt from my skin.

Afterward, I lay on my back, my palms flat against the cool white sand and listened to Graeme talk about the future I knew we would never have together; the small wedding on this very beach, the house we would build on my parent's property with a big lanai and an outdoor shower and a long rolling lawn that stretched toward the ocean, Graeme would teach our tan, blonde babies to surf and at night we would tuck them into their salty beds and read them stories I had written myself.

I lay there next to him, silent, and drank in his words as though they were medicine that could fix my soul.

The moon had slipped behind Haleakala and it was so dark that even the tiniest stars were visible and I stared up at the white threads of the Milky Way splattered across the satin sky and willed the night to never end. Graeme held my hand and I pushed the lump in my throat and my secrets down into the cold dark cavern inside my chest. I lay there for a long time, listening to Graeme's soft snores.

"Graeme, I have to tell you something," I said suddenly.

"What?" he mumbled.

I slept with your best friend. I hesitated, "I love you so much," I said.

"I know," he said and I could hear the smile in his sleepy voice.

Grayness had begun to creep up from below the horizon and spread itself across the sky, dimming the stars.

"Graeme," I said and poked him in the side before he could drift back into oblivion.

"Mmmmm," he mumbled and reached for me.

"No," I said, "we have to go." I stood up, pulling Graeme to his feet and we began to dress. I put the empty wine bottle and the blanket into my bag and then took Graeme's hand and led him away from the lightning horizon and back toward the darkness beneath the canopy of Mango trees.

Graeme and I didn't speak as we walked back toward my parent's house and the only sound was the crunching of our steps through the mango leaves. I could feel the crisp leaves tickling my feet and then, suddenly, searing pain in the arch of my right foot. I screamed, more in terror than in pain and took off running and limping toward the window of light beyond the trees, Graeme chased after me, calling my name. I didn't stop running, even when I reached the dewy lawn, until I made my way up the front steps of the house, gasping for breath and gagging on my fear and the sweet, delicious smell of Night Blooming Jasmine.

I went inside and into the bathroom and turned on the light. I hardly dared to look at my foot but it felt hot and stiff. Graeme came into the bathroom. He must have been right behind me.

"What?" he asked, sitting down next to me of the edge of the tub.

"I got bit by a centipede," I said, blinking back tears.

"Let me see," he said and took my foot in his warm, dry hands. There were two tiny punctures in the arch of my right foot, a thin stream of blood trickled from each one. The skin around the punctures was an angry red and my foot had already begun to swell.

"I've ruined your vacation," I started to cry a little. The last time I'd been bit by a centipede, on my big toe when I was 13, I'd suffered such a severe allergic reaction that my leg had swelled all the way to the top of my thigh, the skin stretched so taut that I had been afraid it would tear.

Graeme brought my foot to his mouth. "I'm going to suck out the poison."

When I felt his warm soft lips on my skin I started to cry harder. He spit into the tub. "Shhhhhh," he said. "It's going to be okay." No, it's not.

"It's not going to work," I sobbed hysterically.

But he brought his lips back to my foot again and again and when he was finished the pain had gone away and the swelling had stopped.

"I told you it would work," he said, rubbing Calamine lotion into the punctures. "Let's go to bed."

But he was wrong. Because while Graeme slept, his arms wrapped tightly around me, I watched the hot red ball of the sun rise out of the sea far beyond the sheer white curtains and the open window I could still feel the poison coursing through my veins.

 

Lily Morningstar is originally from Maui, Hawaii, and now resides in New York City. She is an MFA candidate at The City College of New York and is working on her first novel.