The Distance Between Sunrise and Sunset

— Luther Hughes

The window above Charlie’s head is corpse-cold. Not like his mother’s corpse. No, that’s too easy. But he only has her to refer to, and he didn’t like thinking of his mother as a window; a window as his mother. But what can he do? His mother is dead. Suicide. The window was cold that day too and, even though it was summer, and the days were at their peak, his mother was cold. Or maybe chilled, Charlie thinks as he watches the sunlight weave across Sawyer’s back. It slithers as Sawyer moves beneath him; his body pressed down on the bed. Peaceful. His mother had looked peaceful, too.

“I know she’s dead,” he had told Sawyer on the phone while waiting outside the funeral home that morning, the sun barely parading up his stubbled chin, “but there was an arrogant serenity to her.”

His mother had always told him that she wanted her funeral to start before sunrise. It had. Charlie knew that, openly, his mother would have hated being defined as arrogant. Would have made him apologize for being so daft.

“Is that the best you got?” she would mock whenever Charlie insulted her, flipping her dyed, crow-black hair over her shoulder with just a whip of her head. It was the best he had. Though, he didn’t admit it. He just watched her smirk like she was better—will always be better—than him. Even in death.

She often made people feel that way. Small. Once, while in a clothing store, a white woman had accidentally bumped into Charlie in the middle of the bra section. His mother had said, “A woman should never go more than two months without a new bra-and-panty set.” Charlie had nodded. He was an only child. And, though his mother had wanted more children, a girl next time, she had told him she was “incapable,” hunched over that night’s dinner: meatloaf, red skin mash potatoes, and mixed vegetables. He wasn’t sure what that meant. “Daft,” she would have said if he’d admitted it.

Being the only child had its ups and downs, although the downs are really all that Charlie remembered. Since the beginning, all his mother’s attention had been focused on him. He’d had no father for as long as he could remember. She had told him everything. Too much even. Except anything about his father. When Charlie had first started asking about him, she would look him straight in the eyes: “Am I not good enough for you?” And, as the years went by, whenever he mentioned him, she would just laugh from some deep place. Not her stomach, no. But somewhere close.

It was the same place she had drawn her laugh from the night the deacon—who wouldn’t stop looking at her breasts during collection—had stood her up. She had knocked on Charlie’s door when she knew he wasn’t asleep. Charlie wasn’t a sleeper, he would get in about four hours and be fine. She walked in, sat on his bed, and vomited her complaints.

“Men only want one thing, Charlie,” she said, followed by her deep, not-stomach laugh, “and when they don’t think it will be given, they’ll either call it quits or chase after it.”

She wasn’t drunk. It wasn’t her drunk language.

The white woman hadn’t noticed she’d bumped into Charlie, but his mother had. When Charlie had said it wasn’t a big deal, his mother had pushed him aside—causing him to knock over a small pantyhose rack. The woman was oddly beautiful. Her neck was long and pale, like a swan’s. But her face was down-trodden, like her proudest moment in life was being crowned Prom Queen. Her hair had been pulled back into a high bun, a washed-out-red. Freckles peppered her nose like his mother’s over-seasoned spaghetti last Thanksgiving. “Stop choking, you’ll be fine,” she had said, cutting him a few thin slices of ham.

Charlie couldn’t catch what his mother had said as she pointed in the woman’s face, back to him, and then back to the woman, who, by then, had grown small in Charlie’s eyes. She had transformed from pale to bright pink: the dawn sky from the morning his mother woke him to watch the sunrise. “Beautiful, the things God has made” she had said, kissing him on his forehead.

Charlie was always secretly happy, proud even, when his mother tore into white people. He never could, although his mother had tried to give him the courage to, “speak his mind no matter what, because God don’t create nothing for just kicks and giggles.” He would nod. Charlie loved his mother.

He watches the sunlight snake across Sawyer’s spine, then looks to the door. He’s still asleep, I could leave if I want to.

He doesn’t. It’s too peaceful. Their clothes flower the wooden floor but face each other as if in conversation; a crooked self-portrait above the desk, that, at first glance, resembles a sorry garden of yellow roses. The faint whisper of the next-door neighbors arguing.

His eyes gloss over Sawyer as he begins to wake—left foot hanging off the side, legs painted in the sheets. Nape, upper back, head of black serpents.

“How long have you been sitting there?”

“Not too long.” He didn’t look him in the eyes but at the center of his nose.

Sawyer kisses his foot. “Sitting up there is so dramatic.” He pats the space next to him. Charlie sees the forest in his eyes, decides it too is peaceful, and abandons the window. As Charlie slides next him, Sawyer now paints a different color: a dark plum as their skins meld together. Sawyer turns and places his head against Charlie’s chest.

Can you feel someone grow cold the moment they start thinking about suicide? Charlie looks at Sawyer. No, that doesn’t make any sense.

The Sunday he found his mother, arms splayed across the kitchen table, three empty pill bottles—“One for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost,” his mother would say when things came in threes—the daily scripture on the calendar beside the refrigerator read:

Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved. — Psalm 55:22

This made sense to Charlie.

He blinks. He can feel the window on Sawyer’s lips. His mother’s corpse. Suicide. What is it that God wants of us? What does he want with me? Sawyer exhales and moves his head from Charlie’s chest to the pillow. The neighbors’ voices sneak into his ear, hums.

“You say you love me but all you fucking do is complain.”

“I complain, and I love you. It’s possible to do both, y’know? We’re not all so fucking simple-minded.”

He looks at Sawyer. He looks at the soil of clothes on the floor. This desk they’ve built together. He just needed to have his black mahogany desk. Sawyer turns his head towards the window. A flicker, and Charlie studies the far-left corner of the room. The left wall is struck with light from the window. The right cowering in darkness.

He looks back at Sawyer and places a hand above his nape. He’s so peaceful. His hand begins to comb Sawyer’s back until his finger settles inside his split. Charlie kneads and kneads. Sawyer’s face ripens and his body leans into Charlie’s warmth. He watches for the forest while Sawyer mouths something in French—he always does when Charlie’s inside him. Charlie kneads harder. His hand begins to fade into the dips of Sawyer. More French. This one he recognizes: “S’il vous plait ne pas arrêter.”

Charlie doesn’t remember when Sawyer picked up French or if he already knew it before they started dating. At times, he found it insufferable, Sawyer throwing it out every chance he got. When Charlie forgets to bless his food: “Dieu ne va pas aimer ça.” If he doesn’t feel like kissing him goodnight: “Tu ne m’aimes pas?”

Charlie doesn’t know any other languages. Daft. He tried to learn Spanish, but his tongue wouldn’t cooperate. He tried on three separate occasions. Once in high school. Once in college. And once after he started dating Sawyer. Sawyer had told him not to give up, to keep trying: “Personne n’aime un lâcheur.”

Charlie stops and removes his hand. He’s tired. He kisses Sawyer’s head. I love you. “Sawyer,” he whimpers. Sawyer turns around. Charlie doesn’t speak. Sawyer kisses his lips, closes his eyes. A small tear runs down Charlie’s cheek. Charlie can feel the window on his lips. His mother. His eyes walk to the corner again. It’s shrouded in darkness now. No trace of light. Or sun. Is this us? Are we just distant corners waiting to be recognized? “Never mind.”

Nothing. The neighbors have been silent for some time now. There’s no noise, no city, just the sunset it seems. It’s been silent lately after these moments. After Charlie’s been inside him. Since his mother’s death. Charlie looks into Sawyer’s eyes, but they’re looking elsewhere.

“Let’s go back to sleep,” Sawyer says and kisses his forehead. His mother. Sawyer turns around, creating a small stream between them. Charlie’s hand bent over his ribcage.

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